"In a less Gothic vein, bars often introduced me to the patois and subcultures of a region that was never one South. At a tavern by the railroad tracks in Donaldsonville, La., I was met by drinkers who seemed to speak a foreign tongue, except for the barkeep, who gruffly demanded to know if I was “a tourist or Yankee,” with an expletive for emphasis. When I answered “both,” he piled plates with spicy shrimp, chicken and boudin sausage — on the house, along with the beer — while patrons jovially tutored me on Cajun lingo and customs.
Olmsted had many such encounters, in an era when “ardent spirits” and “grog-shops” were so ubiquitous that even the landscape seemed tipsy to him. “The whole concern,” he wrote of a Virginia shanty, lurched to one side, “as if too much whiskey had been drank in it.”" Horwitz in the NY Times
Mr. Horwitz makes an interesting observation reached as a conclusion after having "spied on the South" as he puts it. "There was never just one South." That is absolutely correct. The First Families of Virginia grande dames in Richmond are just as haughty and indifferent to people not of their caste as their great grandmothers were in their treatment of Varina Davis, the Confederate president's "coarse" wife. Actually, she was nothing of the kind. And these FFV ladies are about as different from shrimp boat captains in the Gulf as they could be. BUT, both groups, in their hearts have much in common and despise the Yankees of today and their alien culture. Horwitz found that to be true across the South before he returned to Martha's Vinyard to meditate. And, as some Yankee on SST will tell us, the feeling is reciprocated.
Can the "better angels of our natures" clasp hands and embrace across the cultural voids that yawn all around?
I do not think so.
These days the cultural and political fissures are just as much "flyover America" vs. the Big City people as they are North vs. South. CNN/MSNBC/NY Times/Washpost/Bill DeBlasio and friends vs. everyone else. The depth of these divisions are on daily display in the warfare ongoing in the media and politics.
The US as a state has always been a matter of compromise among competing interests. The US Constitution was that and is that. Those compromises are now rejected by the "city people" in the eagerness to dominate "the boobs" in much the same way that the North wanted to dominate the South in the 1850s.
It is now only a matter of time before the loss of the mortar holding the US together causes a general collapse. pl
Having read your trilogy I really do appreciate this note. You have a much more nuanced view on the conflict between the North & South in the mid-19th century than the “common knowledge” narrative that it was about slavery.
There are centrifugal forces across the globe. If you have the time & inclination I am sure the SST community would appreciate your opinion on if the brewing conflict within and among several nation states leads to global military conflict.
I’m reminded of a quote by Rudi Dornbusch who studied the loss of confidence that create currency collapses:
I believe this applies to even societal cohesion.
Faster, Faster…. about time that this, the most atrocious criminal enterprise ever on planet earth, must be dismembered soonest, and should collapse and disappear for the sake of humanity.
Did you like the trilogy or just find it a case of special pleading?
Col., you know the contours of the Southern elite(s) better than many, so my question is this: Where are they in the political contest, which you describe in almost Schmittian terms (the ‘friend-enemy’ distinction)?
“[B]oth groups, in their hearts have much in common and despise the Yankees of today and their alien culture.”
How are they resisting the impositions of the coastal regions beside voicing objections? Trump stirred the ordinary people of flyover country, but there is little if any mobilization apparent in the strata of local elites. The state and local GOP in deep red states can seemingly only generate consensus and political will on economic matters, some of which are at odds with the populist agenda the deplorables signed up for. The liberals/yankees/urbanites, whatever you want to call them, wage wars of political aggression, but at best, all we see from their opposition inside and outside the political apparatus is a managed retreat.
Take a look at #MAGAtwitter. These people aren’t in contact with the reality of the situation they’re in. They’re given over to impotent conspiracy theory posting (‘cultural Marxism’, Qanon, deep state ‘white hats’), or are serenely confident Trump throwing Obama out on his ear has fixed the Republics problem, which were never deeper than some bluehaired freaks on the campus. Their morality is up, their social metrics are nosing ever downwards much like Indian populations of yesteryear. This is the sign of a spiritually and psychically defeated group of people. And nobody has stepped forward to rally them.
Perhaps I’m missing some information here, in which case I’d very much like to know where I’m wrong.
In China, local administrative divisions are not along the lines of counties-which-contain-cities, but according to cities and their surrounding areas, which are called “counties” but have entirely independent governments from the cities.
Cities regulate urban matters, while counties regulate rural matters. The two do not coordinate except on shared issues like transportation, utilities, and so forth. It is possible–as with the Taipei region–to have two cities within a single county.
The arrangement has it’s own problems–for instance, cities generate a much larger tax revenue than do the counties–but these are managed by the national government, which can redistribute funds when appropriate or necessary.
It seems to me that the US administrative divisions–where cities often dominate county politics, and county politics are often turned to the service of the city’s needs–might well benefit from a reform along these lines.
And leave 20,000 nuclear weapons for the good people who will come.
Julian To the extent that it is possible to generalize, the old establishment Southern elites hold themselves somewhat aloof from the processes of migration and urbanization in places like Atlanta and Houston. They are regional, i.e., Virginia elites are not connected to Tennessee elites. They are more concerned with issues than party politics. They seldom run for office. They are often related to each other over many generations and are a kind of separate society who usually do not wish to be made public figures. They have institutions within which they operate to pull strings in the larger world. Privately held banks, certain colleges, private clubs, certain fraternities, the boards of certain foundations and corporations etc, constitute their world. You understand that I am not speaking of “New Money.” A defeated people? No. They are descendants of the leaders of a defeated people. If they have a choice, you cannot see their houses from the road.
Having lived in Atlanta for a bit over twenty years I can echo that viewpoint entirely. “You cannot see their houses from the road.” Nicely put. You also do not see them in the media, other than the “social events” pages.
I should add that they are concerned about Atlanta, about national events only to the degree to which they effect Atlanta, and are utterly indifferent to events in, say, Houston.
Bill H The same thing is true here in Alexandria where the hidden hand of the old elites is quite discrete and concerned with city or state matters.
Bill H In New Orleans Mardi Gras crews are an acceptable activity. Here a local private bank is the center of “old power.” If the politicians do something not approved a well dressed soft spoken representative of the bank shows up at a hearing to ask that the City Council reconsider.
These old elites operating quietly and locally in the shadows are certainly not just a southern phenomenon. They’re present in the northeast and probably even in fly over country.
I think there’s a lot to be said for this bar stool democracy. I remember the first true southerners I ever talked with for an extended period of time were in Georgia in 1976. This elderly couple operated a visitor center for the Providence Canyon State Park in southwest Georgia. This was the first excursion SWMBO and I made after arriving at Fort Benning for IOBC. Here the grease was common courtesy rather than beer and whiskey. We were as Yankee as can be and the elderly couple lived in this southwest Georgia county all their lives. We sat and talked for hours sharing sweet tea and boiled peanuts. We had a similar, but shorter experience last summer in an ice cream parlor south of Fredericksburg. We started talking with a group of early 20 somethings about movies and such. Again it was common courtesy that greased our conversation. The ice cream also helped. I could tell one young man, especially, was earnest in his southern pride as if it was still the 1860s. He could have been a time traveler. We were very different, but the conversation remained friendly. We all made the necessary efforts to respect our differences.
These conversations are much easier in face to face situations like on adjacent bar stools. I think social media and hyper-fractured news sources are destroying our ability to conduct bar stool democracy. That and the eclipsing of common courtesy by the self-centered “selfie” culture. I cannot understand the lure of taking pictures of oneself, just as I could never fathom the appeal of the “obnoxious in victory, bitter in defeat” attitude.
I am sure they were nice people but not of the “elites” as the term is being used here. there are similarities but the elites of the South and those of places like Connecticut do not communicate much. They are different communities. Was the ice cream place, “Carl’s?”
Oh no. That nice old couple were as far from the elites as SWMBO and I are. We have no desire to rub elbows with the elites, northern or southern and I’m pretty sure those elites have no desire to be seen with the likes of us. I agree with your assessment of the “localness” of these elites.
No, this wasn’t Carls. I wish it was. That’s the best ice cream I’ve ever had. We make the short journey south to Carls often. I gather you like it as well.
I love the place. Best soft serve I have ever had.
We stop at Carl’s whenever we go to Fredericksburg, sometimes that’s the only place we go. We even stopped there after SWMBO’s first hip replacement years ago. Here’s how Carl’s describes their secret, “The difference between ice cream and frozen custard is eggs – A much higher concentration of eggs, Butterfat, and no air, make the cream much richer and thicker.”
Who has actually experienced incivility (as opposed to preoccupation with or distraction by hand-held devices) in face-to-face [noncommercial] interactions? My encounters during six months in Deplorajistan (cross country, Seattle, Portland, back road small towns in both states) were similar to TTG’s. City people were generally less available, but that has always been the case.
Last week dusted off Joan Didion’s Political Fictions after deciding not to buy Post-Truth.
Could not agree more. Just sitting and chatting with people is always way easier and far less scary than social media or elites (whether from north, south, midwest, or west) make it out to be. Elite behavior, elite differences, and elite conditioning are more the problem than any actual differences between regular Americans.
I’m a prickly, sarcastic, and sometimes rude New Yorker (though these attributes are usually more an expression of affection rather than dislike) and was just in Culpepper, VA this past week. If you make the effort, even if your politics or personality are anathema to the person/people with which you’re speaking, it goes a long way to realizing that even our differences shouldn’t create the massive political cleavages that we presently have. As an aside, the same can be said when you’re out of the country as well. Genuineness and earnestness go a long way, just so long as you aren’t being a genuine asshole about it.
On the other hand, was at a dinner in Georgetown later that was full of well educated left leaning professors and social strivers. Their fear of the South and Republicans bordered on the maniacal. Would not even deign it worthy to think of interacting or even speaking to the very same people in Culpepper. Just scratching the surface, and combined with alcohol, and their true feelings came out: they are better than these people and believe that their social/educational status puts them above everyone not knighted in the same way. No matter how you explain it to them, they refuse to accept or even embrace the differences that, at least in theory, they celebrate. That they refused to ever sit and discuss anything with anyone outside of their little cult is one of the roots of the problem and were quite angry with me for even suggesting that their behavior was problematic to say the least.
I did grasp these were historical lineages, and to further clarify, when I referenced a ‘defeated people’, I meant the everyman of those parts, not so much the higher echelons. Arguably though, in the modern era, if an elite can’t secure politically the ethos of their society, what actually makes them elite? Social hierarchies are context dependent.
“They are often related to each other over many generations and are a kind of separate society who usually do not wish to be made public figures.”
This makes it sound like they’re a vestigial force who can buy into contemporary intrigues so long as their diminishing legacy position allows. Or are you implying they are taking steps in their own private way, invisible to outside observers?
Pork Chop – it seems you are proud of being “prickly, sarcastic and rude.” Why are you proud of that?
“These days the cultural and political fissures are just as much “flyover America” vs. the Big City people as they are North vs. South. CNN/MSNBC/NY Times/Washpost/Bill DeBlasio and friends vs. everyone else.”
Same story in every Western European country. How exactly it unfolds varies from nation to nation, but the basic conflict is always big metropolitan areas versus the countryside, even in countries that used to be relatively decentralised like Germany.
For France and UK, there are even two books, which have been discussed very controversially but got the analysis right in my opinion, describing the respective domestic conflicts in slightly different frameworks, but always with the same theme of rural people and city people getting more and more alienated from each other:
David Goodhart, “The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics”
Christophe Guilluy, “No Society. La fin de la classe moyenne occidentale”
I will agree that there is a distinct cultural difference between urban and rural societies. I think this is much more important aspect of American divisions than the North vs South. Whether is it the historical disdain many feel for Yankees or the Yankee disdain of country bumbkins – both are wrong. Having lived in several American cities as well as Madrid, Brussels, Milan, Tel Aviv, New Delhi, Tokyo and Brasilia, I have come to welcome differences. If you look for the best in people, no matter who they are or what their political, religious or cultural beliefs are, it leads to an invigorating and interesting life. The differences between Americans pales in comparison with America and the rest of the world, yet it is possible to establish life long friendships with people who are as different as a baseball and a football.
I believe in the future an American politician will come along who will work at strengthing the bonds between us as people, which are many, and characterize our differences as some have red hair and some brown hair, who the heck cares.
That’s good to hear Col. If they do grasp they are in an existential fight, and that what is at stake transcends their narrow interests of legacy financial privilege, then operating in the shadows is probably advisable. No need to announce yourself to the enemy like Steve Bannon’s risible purchase of a monastery in Italy to train ‘right wing populist gladiators in the Judeo-Christian tradition.’ What a clown show.
While prudence dictates a subaltern forces should stay off the radar, it has to have a genuine will to engage in hegemonic contest. I want to cast aspirations on people doing their best, but time and again we’ve seen conservative forces irresolute in the face of the progressive onslaught.
Here’s a rather interesting excerpt from Tracey B Strong’s introduction to the Concept of the Political, in which the friend-enemy distinction is defined:
‘Schmitt writes somewhat chillingly in The Concept of the Political that “if a people no longer possesses the energy or the will to maintain itself in the sphere of politics, the latter will not thereby vanish from the world. Only a weak people will disappear.” He thus closes his article with a truncated citation from Vergil’s Fourth Eclogue: “Ab integro nascitur ordo.” This full line is “Magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo,” which translates as “a great order of the ages is born from the renewal.”
Schmitt’s abbreviated line means “an order is born from the renewal.” It is worth noting both that this line served as the origin for the motto on the Great Seal of the United States devised by Charles Thompson (an eminent Latinist), and that Vergil’s following line speaks of the coming of a new child (understood by medieval Christianity to be a prophecy of the coming of Christ). Schmitt ends his posthumously published Glossarium with “With each newly born child a new world is born. God willing, each newly born child will be an aggressor!”’
I hope that last lines describes the disposition of these notable families. In an elimination round, no other subjectivity is acceptable.
jdledell Yes. I know. Everyone should be like NY City people. If they are not they must just be ignorant and “smelly.”
Julian, if you think the old elites, usually well moneyed old elites, are in some kind of existential fight to defeat the libs and make the world safe for the alt right, you are woefully misinformed. The old elites will preserve the status quo in all parts of their world. The rest is unimportant to them.
That politician was Obama. He gave great speeches but led poorly especially at the end. Now he is busily try to fund a perpetual agitprop center in Chicago.
”Annoy a Southerner and we will drain away the moments of your life with our slow, detailed and oh so polite replies until you are nothing but a husk of your former self and that much closer to death.”…..Maureen Johnson
Always worked for me.
i am annoyed. Is it working?
Not proud. Just how I am. Again, usually nothing having to do with disrespect or maliciousness. Upbringing and culture, I suppose. Was partially my point. People are how they are. Provided there isn’t genuine hatred involved, differences can, or should, be able to be overcome–especially in this country.
“politician will come along who will work at strengthing the bonds between us as people”
how is that the job of a politician? people have agency.
Lots of eggs is the secret of a lot of good recipes in the sweet nurture section.
I basically agree, TTG, but the devil is often hidden in a heap of contradictory details. Although, personally, I would not want to differentiate between old and new money, strictly. Thus I may be missing something here. Old money occasionally gets wasted by later descendants. New money “may feel it” convenient to sponsor causes it considers worth sponsoring. For political reasons too. What is purely a-political, anyway? Causes to whatever ends, elites new and old with whatever background consider worthy of support.
I am definitively not anti-elite, makes no sense as general perspective/outlook/goal, if you ask me. But I believe and there is quite a bit of evidence that elite money flows in alt-right causes over here for quite a while. Just as over the last decades it may have gathered speed. Found new figureheads, supporters? I doubt it is that different in the US.
Julian, “Bannon’s risible”, not a purchase, some type of lease, I understand. But never mind, don’t underestimate the power of images.
Ok, Tracey B Strong wrote the introduction to Carl Schmitt’s to one edition of Concept of the Political?
Not quite sure, what you try to convey, but interesting:
So many are looking for a savior, so many.
Pat – I try to not be a typical “NY person”. Mingling and conversing with so many different people around the world and finding some have a narrow perspective of life and some a very broad perspecitve was facinating. I assume you found the same mingling and conversing with so many different Arabs.
I could not have been successful in establishing businesses in these different countries if I felt disdain for the locals. Most people regardless of their background and culture are VERY perceptive at interpreting non-verbal clues which indicate their standing versus someone else.
I learned a lesson from my Grandfather about the “value” of each individual regardless of their status in lIfe. As you know, my grandfather was Irgun and before the War of Independence he was walking down a street in Haifa when when he inexplicably turned and shot and killed an Arab who was on the front stoop of his house smoking a morning cigarette.He never understood why he did that.
Years later on a trip with him to Israel, he visited that man’s house and when the man’s wife answered the door my grandfather got on his knees and begged the woman for forgiveness. The sight of my proud grandfather on his knees will be vivid in my brain until I die.
Later I asked him why he did thaat because “he was only an Arab”. He firmly rebuked me and exxplained – everyone was created in the image of G-d and has an equally important role to play in Life, no matter how large or small that role is, it is important to the integrity of the existance of man here on earth.
As far as “smelly” goes, I was able to handle New Delhi in the summer so it is not something that would cause me to reject interacting with locals.
jdledell, I just commented on the “country bumbkins” somewhere else. At least it feels it could be related. On the average they may not be able to travel that much. Some of them may not want to anyway, some of them may want but can’t afford to.
But as the White Rabbit:
I gotta hurry up, I am late. …
country bumkins=peasants? Reflecting on a my comment somewhere else here:
And now, I promise to myself, I’ll abstain from babbling for a while.
Please do so. I have no idea what you are talking about.
jdledell – Pls try not to pigeonhole me as only an Arabist. Like you I have lived in many places; Europe, Asia, Oceania, Black Africa and yes in the ME. I actually preferred Turkey to the Arab countries. I speak four languages with ability. My objection to what I perceive in many Yankees is an assumption of cultural superiority over Southerners that is more than a little reminiscent of colonial attitudes toward the “backward” natives. As you seem to understand Israel is not an exception and has such attitudes. Beginning in the 183os in the US such Northern nationalists as Daniel Webster and John Quincy Adams began promoting the image of the North as TRUE America. The claim at the time was that the South was not really a distinctive cultural area. No, it was really just an area inhabited by the ignorant and those devoid of New England’s sterling Puritan values. You remember those. They are the values my Puritan and Pilgrim ancestors brought to Massachusetts and Connecticut. This narrative narrative inhabits Northern minds to this day. Try- Norton, Anne, Alternative Americas, University of Chicago Press, 1986.
I thoroughly enjoyed your trilogy. I found the intrigue gripping and IMO it was very well written. I felt transported to and immersed in that era. I’ve recommended the trilogy to my family & friends who are interested in American history. I think it is an excellent companion albeit fiction set in a well researched historical context to Shelby Foote’s narrative on the Civil War.
BP High praise to be compared to Shelby Foote. Thank you.
Yes and no. Your military training makes you get to the point and less inclined to drone on and on.
Works better for ladies anyway. Last time I got stopped for a minor traffic violation it took me 20 minutes to explain why I couldn’t find my insurance card. He finally gave up and told me to have a nice day.
During my college days and time spent in NY with classmates I had a Yankee boy talking about the South say to me….”you Southerners don’t care what anyone else thinks do you?”
I have to admit he was right. We really don’t care what outsiders think.
This reminds me of a story of Marin County liberals (who are mostly transplanted northerners in my experience) & George Lucas. Lucas had a property that he wanted to develop for his studio. His neighbors objected citing environmental and other reasons. He then proposed a low-income housing development which got them even more apoplectic as they claimed it would change the character of their neighborhood.
What’s good for the goose is never good for the gander. I completely agree with you that the condescension of the urban & financial elites is very reminiscent of colonial attitudes. We see this in the increasing PCness and divisiveness. The big finger of the “backward” was electing Trump in the last presidential election. Not that it has mattered much in terms of policy but he surely continues to be a symbol of FU!!
Was a police report made? Was the crime investigated? Was your grandfather ever questioned? You know–all that official stuff that has to be done when you get involved in a serious felony? Things have to be done, you know. I find that there is something very strange about your story. It’s sick; your grandfather was sick; you are sick. You are having a bit of sick fun with us?
and/or (overlapping with many others) a New World Order.
However, different saviors and utopias result in Wars on Error [that of others] which is one of the engines of history – or at least a driver thereof.
Tidewater – There were no police involved – the pre-Independence war between Jewish Israelis and the British authorities, as well as Arab resistence led to hundreds, if not thousands of deaths. Remember this was a time when the Lehi gang blew up the King David Hotel with many deaths and the Deir Yassin massacre in which many hundreds died. You can think of this as a lawless time similar to any country’s War of Independence. That does not excuse some of the abuses that occcurred during that war but it does help understand the context.
I am neither sick or attempting to make others sick. My grandfather went to his grave full of daily remorse for his actions that day. He was involved in other killings, like British soldiers, where he never gave it a second thought. I think Pat will agree, War is Hell, and right or wrong Israelis thought of this time as War and the British occupiers were the enemy and the Arabs usupers of their land.
As many know on this blog, I have many problems with Israel and it’s policies but throwing off the yoke of the British occupation is not high on that list. It is similar to what America did in the later 1700’s. Remember I am not excusing the excesses that occurred in this war, in particular the Deir Yassin massacre bothers me greatly as it did my Grandfather who was on a hill with the Irgun overlooking Deir Yassin. Immediately after that episode he left Israel for America, never to live in the land he helped liberate.
What you say about war is true, although one must know when to stop. You do not deliberately kill civilians as was the case at Deir Yassin. And THESE particular British soldiers just after WW2 were mostly draftees doing their National Service.
Thank you for your courteous, thoughtful, and informative reply. I have always found your comments to be very interesting, reporting as you do from inside.
Oh come on. I think you both know that what happened at Deir Yassin and in fact all over the Galilee was a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing and terror designed to make the “Arab” population flee. It was as well-planned and premeditated as the Huguenot Massacre or the Final Solution. Americans have been complicit in Jewish crimes in the Levant for generations. It is now the greatest religious war in history. It is also a great race war. There is no solution and there is no exit. The only hope down the line maybe ten years is that nuclear winter is a kill switch for global warming. For those who are prepared.
Pat – I don’t try to pigeonhole anyone and I wish my words did not convey that. I continue to be facinated by your Arab experiences as I have tried to do in the mideast. I admire your ability with arabic as it has given me absolute fits to sound like a young child when trying to speak it. I have no problems with people from the South even though my experience living in Atlanta and Jacksonville was not really indicative of the Southern Culture. As I’m sure you understand, there is much about living in the NYC suburbs where the NYC sense of superiority can be very irritating. I will look into your suggested reading.
Tidewater – You are correct that there were deliberate actions designed to move Arabs out of certain areas. In the 1940’s Tel Aviv was primarily Jewish and connected to, and directly south, of Tel Aviv was the city of Jaffa, primarily Arab. There were extensive operations, like produce wagons filled with fruit and vegtables hiding explosives which would go off in the Arab marketplaces. The explosions did not kill many people, but they were designed to instill fear and get Arabs to leave Jaffa so that Tel Aviv Jews could expand into that area.
jdledell – Anne Norton is now head of the poly sci dep. at Penn. Yes. To penetrate the hidden world behind the stacked stone walls in places like Fauquier County you have to have some sort of “in.” Arabic is, as my engineer students said, “language for engineers.” The dialectal stuff is not so bad. It follows the subject – verb – object pattern but MSA (fusha) is driven by something analogous to cases, but not really cases and is hell on earth. There are also about 7 1/2 million words in the lexicon. It took me three years of hard work with my wife as my fellow student to achieve mastery of the grammar in fusha and conversational fluency in several dialects (Jerusalem, Yemeni and Hijazi) Then the Army ordered me to WP to create a program in teaching it to cadets. I was in Tunisia once on Jerba island and in a carpet store. The proprietor and I were kneeling on a pile of carpets sipping tea when he realized that I had gradually transitioned from French to Arabic. After a minute he said “Oh, my brother, I welcome you, a ferenji who speaks the tongue of the angels. All our lives you and I will strive to learn more.” He tried to give us a nice rug.
“You can think of this as a lawless time similar to any country’s War of Independence. That does not excuse some of the abuses that occcurred during that war but it does help understand the context.”
Possibly a better way to understand the Naqba is to read Jabotinsky.