October 16, 2005

ZTNELIW NAES (via Gene Brown):

Bush's Ancestors (SEAN WILENTZ, 10/16/05, NY Times Magazine)

Ever since Ronald Reagan's election in 1980, the strength of American conservatism has largely confounded historians and intellectuals. Before then, a generation of influential scholars claimed that liberalism was the core of all American political thinking and suggested that it always would be. Well into the 1970's, many observers wondered whether a Republican Party that allied itself with the conservative movement could long survive.

History has, to say the least, disproved these judgments. Yet many prominent liberals continue to see contemporary conservatism as a rhetorical smoke screen intended to deceive the masses - even as conservatives often trace their movement back no farther than William F. Buckley Jr.'s founding of National Review in 1955, fusing religious and pro-business-minded voters. Such thinking, however, slights the coherence and durability of conservative politics in America. The blend of businessmen's aversion to government regulation, down-home cultural populism and Christian moralism that sustains today's Republican Party is a venerable if loosely knit philosophy of government dating back to long before the right-wing upsurge that prepared the way for Reagan's presidency. A few pundits and political insiders have likened the current Republicans to the formidable, corporate-financed political machine behind President William McKinley at the end of the 19th century. The admiration Karl Rove has expressed for the machine strengthens the historical connection. Yet neither conservatives nor liberals have fully recognized that the Bush administration's political and ideological recipe was invented decades before McKinley by a nearly forgotten American institution: the Whig Party of the 1830's and 40's.

The Whigs arose in 1834 to oppose Andrew Jackson's anti-elitist Democratic Party.

The Jacksonian Tradition And American Foreign Policy (Walter Russell Mead, Winter 1999, National Interest)
His political movement--or, more accurately, the community of political feeling that he wielded into an instrument of power--remains in many ways the most important in American politics. Solidly Democratic through the Truman administration (a tradition commemorated in the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners that are still the high points on Democratic Party calendars in many cities and states), Jacksonian America shifted toward the Republican Party under Richard Nixon--the most important political change in American life since the Second World War. The future of Jacksonian political allegiance will be one of the keys to the politics of the twenty-first century.

Suspicious of untrammeled federal power (Waco), skeptical about the prospects for domestic and foreign do-gooding (welfare at home, foreign aid abroad), opposed to federal taxes but obstinately fond of federal programs seen as primarily helping the middle class (Social Security and Medicare, mortgage interest subsidies), Jacksonians constitute a large political interest.

In some ways Jacksonians resemble the Jeffersonians, with whom their political fortunes were linked for so many decades. Like Jeffersonians, Jacksonians are profoundly suspicious of elites. They generally prefer a loose federal structure with as much power as possible retained by states and local governments. But the differences between the two movements run very deep--so deep that during the Cold War they were on dead opposite sides of most important foreign policy questions. To use the language of the Vietnam era, a time when Jeffersonians and Jacksonians were fighting in the streets over foreign policy, the former were the most dovish current in mainstream political thought during the Cold War, while the latter were the most consistently hawkish.

One way to grasp the difference between the two schools is to see that both Jeffersonians and Jacksonians are civil libertarians, passionately attached to the Constitution and especially to the Bill of Rights, and deeply concerned to preserve the liberties of ordinary Americans. But while the Jeffersonians are most profoundly devoted to the First Amendment, protecting the freedom of speech and prohibiting a federal establishment of religion, Jacksonians see the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, as the citadel of liberty. Jeffersonians join the American Civil Liberties Union; Jacksonians join the National Rifle Association. In so doing, both are convinced that they are standing at the barricades of freedom.

For foreigners and for some Americans, the Jacksonian tradition is the least impressive in American politics. It is the most deplored abroad, the most denounced at home. Jacksonian chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are the despair of high-minded people everywhere, as they hold up adhesion to the Kyoto Protocol, starve the UN and the IMF, cut foreign aid, and ban the use of U.S. funds for population control programs abroad. When spokesmen for other schools of thought speak about the "problems" of American foreign policy, the persistence and power of the Jacksonian school are high on their list. While some of this fashionable despair may be overdone, and is perhaps a reflection of different class interests and values, it is true that Jacksonians often figure as the most obstructionist of the schools, as the least likely to support Wilsonian initiatives for a better world, to understand Jeffersonian calls for patient diplomacy in difficult situations, or to accept Hamiltonian trade strategies. Ye t without Jacksonians, the United States would be a much weaker power.

A principal explanation of why Jacksonian politics are so poorly understood is that Jacksonianism is less an intellectual or political movement than an expression of the social, cultural and religious values of a large portion of the American public. And it is doubly obscure because it happens to be rooted in one of the portions of the public least represented in the media and the professoriat. Jacksonian America is a folk community with a strong sense of common values and common destiny; though periodically led by intellectually brilliant men--like Andrew Jackson himself--it is neither an ideology nor a self-conscious movement with a clear historical direction or political table of organization. Nevertheless, Jacksonian America has produced--and looks set to continue to produce--one political leader and movement after another, and it is likely to continue to enjoy major influence over both foreign and domestic policy in the United States for the foreseeable future.

The Evolution of a Community

IT IS NOT fashionable today to think of the American nation as a folk community bound together by deep cultural and ethnic ties. Believers in a multicultural America attack this idea from one direction, but conservatives too have a tendency to talk about the United States as a nation based on ideology rather than ethnicity. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, among others, has said that the United States is unlike other nations because it is based on an idea rather than on a community of national experience. The continuing and growing vitality of the Jacksonian tradition is, for better or worse, living proof that she is at least partly wrong.

If Jeffersonianism is the book-ideology of the United States, Jacksonian populism is its folk-ideology. Historically, American populism has been based less on the ideas of the Enlightenment than on the community values and sense of identity among the British colonizers who first settled this country. In particular, as David Hackett Fischer has shown, Jacksonian populism can be originally identified with a subgroup among these settlers, the so-called "Scots-Irish", who settled the back country regions of the Carolinas and Virginia, and who went on to settle much of the Old West--West Virginia, Kentucky, parts of Indiana and Illinois--and the southern and south central states of Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. Jacksonian populism today has moved beyond its original ethnic and geographical limits. Like country music, another product of Jacksonian culture, Jacksonian politics and folk feeling has become a basic element in American consciousness that can be found from one end of the country to the other.

The Scots-Irish were a hardy and warlike people, with a culture and out look formed by centuries of bitter warfare before they came to the United States. Fischer shows how, trapped on the frontiers between England and Scotland, or planted as Protestant colonies in the hostile soil of Ireland, this culture was shaped through centuries of constant, bloody war. The Revolutionary struggle and generations of savage frontier conflict in the United States reproduced these conditions in the New World; the Civil War--fought with particular ferocity in the border states--renewed the cultural heritage of war.

The role of what we are calling Jacksonian America in nineteenth-century America is clear, but many twentieth-century observers made what once seemed the reasonable assumption that Jacksonian values and politics were dying out. These observers were both surprised and discomfited when Ronald Reagan's political success showed that Jacksonian America had done more than survive; it was, and is, thriving.

What has happened is that Jacksonian culture, values and self-identification have spread beyond their original ethnic limits. In the 1920s and 1930s the highland, border tradition in American life was widely thought to be dying out, ethnically, culturally and politically. Part of this was the economic and demographic collapse of the traditional home of Jacksonian America: the family farm. At the same time, mass immigration from southern and Eastern Europe tilted the ethnic balance of the American population ever farther from its colonial mix. New England Yankees were a vanishing species, limited to the hills of New Hampshire and Vermont, while the cities and plains of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island filled with Irishmen, Italians, Portuguese and Greeks. The great cities of the United States were increasingly filled with Catholics, members of the Orthodox churches and Jews--all professing in one way or another communitarian social values very much at odds with the individualism of traditional Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Celtic culture.

As Hiram W. Evans, the surprisingly articulate Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, wrote in 1926, the old stock American of his time had become

a stranger in large parts of the land his fathers gave him. Moreover, he is a most unwelcome stranger, one much spit upon, and one to whom even the right to have his own opinions and to work for his own interests is now denied with jeers and revilings. "We must Americanize the Americans,' a distinguished immigrant said recently.

Protestantism itself was losing its edge. The modernist critique of traditional Biblical readings found acceptance in one mainline denomination after another; Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran seminaries accepted critical, post-Darwinian readings of Scripture; self-described "fundamentalists" fought a slow, but apparently losing, rearguard action against the modernist forces. The new mainline Protestantism was a tolerant, even a namby-pamby, religion.

The old nativist spirit, anti-immigrant, anti-modern art and apparently anti-twentieth century, still had some bite--Ku Klux crosses flamed across the Midwest as well as the South during the 1920s--but it all looked like the death throes of an outdated idea. There weren't many mourners: much of H.L. Mencken's career was based on exposing the limitations and mocking the death of what we are calling Jacksonian America.

Most progressive, right thinking intellectuals in mid-century America believed that the future of American populism lay in a social democratic movement based on urban immigrants. Social activists like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seegerk consciously sought to use cultural forms like folk songs to ease the transition from the old individualistic folk world to the collective new one that they believed was the wave of the future; they celebrated unions and other strange, European ideas in down home country twangs so that, in the bitter words of Hiram Evans, "There is a steady flood of alien ideas being spread over the country, always carefully disguised as American."

WHAT CAME next surprised almost everyone. The tables turned, and Evans' Americans "americanized" the immigrants rather than the other way around. In what is still a largely unheralded triumph of the melting pot, Northern immigrants gradually assimilated the values of Jacksonian individualism. Each generation of new Americans was less "social" and more individualistic than the preceding one. American Catholics, once among the world's most orthodox, remained Catholic in religious allegiance but were increasingly individualistic in terms of psychology and behavior ("I respect the Pope, but I have to follow my own conscience"). Ties to the countries of emigration steadily weakened, and the tendency to marry outside the group strengthened.

Outwardly, most immigrant groups completed an apparent assimilation to American material culture within a couple of generations of their arrival. A second type of assimilation--an inward assimilation to and adaptation of the core cultural and psychological structure of the native population--took longer, but as third, fourth and fifth-generation immigrant families were exposed to the economic and social realities of American life, they were increasingly "americanized" on the inside as well as without.

This immense and complex process was accelerated by social changes that took place after 1945. Physically, the old neighborhoods broke up, and the Northern industrial working class, along with the refugees from the dying American family farm, moved into the suburbs to form a new populist mix. As increasing numbers of the descendants of immigrants moved into the Jacksonian Sunbelt, the pace of assimilation grew. The suburban homeowner with his or her federally subsidized mortgage replaced the homesteading farmer (on free federal land) as the central pillar of American populism. Richard Nixon, with his two-pronged appeal to white Southerners and the "Joe Six-pack" voters of the North, was the first national politician to recognize the power of this newly energized current in American life.

Urban, immigrant America may have softened some of the rough edges of Jacksonian America, but the descendants of the great wave of European immigration sound more like Andrew Jackson from decade to decade. Rugged frontier individualism has proven to be contagious; each successive generation has been more Jacksonian than its predecessor. The social and economic solidarity rooted in European peasant communities has been overmastered by the individualism of the frontier. The descendants of European working-class Marxists now quote Adam Smith; Joe Six-pack thinks of the welfare state as an expensive burden, not part of the natural moral order. Intellectuals have made this transition as thoroughly as anyone else. The children and grandchildren of trade unionists and Trotskyites now talk about the importance of liberal society and free markets; in the intellectual pilgrimage of Irving Kristol, what is usually a multigenerational process has been compressed into a single, brilliant career.

The new Jacksonianism is no longer rural and exclusively nativist. Frontier Jacksonianism may have taken the homesteading farmer and the log cabin as its emblems, but today's Crabgrass Jacksonianism sees the homeowner on his modest suburban lawn as the hero of the American story. The Crabgrass Jacksonian may wear green on St. Patrick's Day; he or she might go to a Catholic Church and never listen to country music (though, increasingly, he or she probably does); but the Crabgrass Jacksonian doesn't just believe, she knows that she is as good an American as anybody else, that she is entitled to her rights from Church and State, that she pulls her own weight and expects others to do the same. That homeowner will be heard from: Ronald Reagan owed much of his popularity and success to his ability to connect with Jacksonian values. Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan in different ways have managed to tap into the power of the populist energy that Old Hickory rode into the White House. In both domestic and foreign policy, the twenty-first century will be profoundly influenced by the values and concerns of Jacksonian America.

Even for a liberal professor writing in the Times, it's pretty impressive to so comprehensively misunderstand that American anti-elitism/antiintellectualism means that most people just don't like you or your ideas. All you really need to know about American politics is that only 12% of Americans are Darwinists, but that 12% includes every single public intellectual and pundit of the Left and every national Democratic politicisn.

Likewise, the overlap of this list with this one is especially revealing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 16, 2005 9:46 AM

The modern conservative movement encapsulates the entire range of politics from the Founding through about 1880. Once we cram the left back into the hole from whence it crawled, we can go back to fighting amongst ourselves. (We must be pretty close to our goal, as the prelinary border skirmishes are already breaking out.)

Posted by: David Cohen at October 16, 2005 11:04 AM

The Left isn't going anywhere; indeed, these skirmishes are just part of the ongoing realignment. The neocons and libertarians belong in the Democratic Party and majorities ob blacks and Hispanics in the GOP.

Posted by: oj at October 16, 2005 11:12 AM

Of course, you wouldn't think so.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 16, 2005 12:54 PM

Even for a liberal professor writing in the Times, it's pretty impressive to so comprehensively misunderstand that American anti-elitism/antiintellectualism means that most people just don't like you or your ideas.

Now there's a perfect example of the pot insulting the kettle.

Orrin, if Walter Russell Mead is correct in his analysis, it ALSO means that most American reject your ideas about the benefits of forcing us to work together like slaves chained to galley oars.

We don't need no stinkin' mass transit - particularly rail, the worst form of urban mass transit.

You reject your own arguments about the benefits of restricting the means of problem solving, in order to artificially force a predetermined outcome, when it comes to setting higher CAFE standards.

There, you want to set the end, and let human ingenuity come up with the best means.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 16, 2005 1:32 PM

"Crabgrass Jacksonianism" is the way the article describes the American people and spirit. This is what people come here from the four corners of the earth to attain.

Blacks and Hispanics (some Hispanics, not all) are special cases. Individual members of these cultural groups are free to become Americans, one individual at a time. If is not possible, however, for bodies of those alien to the American people and spirit to come over en masse, like some 11th century pagan chieftain's conversion of his tribe to Christianity.

If your identity is stuck in a time when your group was an enemy of that American people and spirit, and you insist on maintaining your hostility and keeping your wounds green, you are defining yourself as an outsider and holding yourself to be left behind.

Reply Obj.: "People and spirit" sounds bad when you say it in German, "Volk und Geist." It is in no way a racist concept, being a part of choice and experience. On the contrary, it is racist to say that those of a particular racial background are geneticaly bound to remain aliens.

Posted by: Lou Gots at October 16, 2005 1:35 PM

The first list is locked inside a registration condom. Could you provide a copy of the pertinent parts?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 16, 2005 2:12 PM


Of course the reason we drive cars is because of our national character. That's why to get us out of them you need to change tax structures. Which party is most closely tied to unlimited cheap gas?

Posted by: oj at October 16, 2005 4:15 PM

Neither the ueropean socialist left, nor romantic religious continental conservatism is viable in the US. Of course the only follower of the second is OJ. The socialist left is in sever decline in the uS and will be margianalized and out of business before 2020.

David is correct, OJ is merely right.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 17, 2005 12:50 AM