Sam Smith – To understand the Kavanaugh disaster it helps to pay attention to the bitter reaction of two southern senators, Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham. Their anger reflected the fact that a principle upon which they were raised had been so dramatically challenged. This southern principle has been described by historian David Hackett Fischer as hegemonic liberty i.e. the more power you have the more liberty you have.
Obviously, this is not just a southern principle, but as Fischer explains, the migrations from England to America varied in a number of ways, one these being a view of liberty that altered by region. For New England, your freedom was defined by the community. In the Quaker influenced mid-Atlantic it was a reciprocal arrangement: I can’t have my liberty if you don’t have yours. In the west it was libertarian: you get to do what you want.
In the South it was based on your status. And while obviously blacks were the far worst victims, they weren’t the only ones. For example, Virginia was largely settled by whites who were indentured servants. The settlers of Jamestown each brought an indentured worker as well. And, of course, wives and other women ranked well below powerful men as well.
Thus even an not well off Arkansas boy who made it to governor, presumed he had the right to behave as Bill Clinton did with women.
In short it was a model that, as I suggested in an article some months ago, helps to explain the American powerful of the day. Donald Trump, for example, has the classic values and attitudes of a plantation owner. . . and he’s far from the only non-southern corporate example. Interestingly, Trump uses another classic southern trick: he tells low income whites that blacks and latinos are responsible for their troubles.
Clearly the South has changed, witness a black candidate leading the race for governor in Florida. But just as many tend to lump all blacks and women together, so there are many liberals who do the same thing with men, when, in fact, in all these cases culture, education and background are far more telling.
Region is also important in ways we don’t even note. For example half of Americans live in nine states, yet these nine states have only 18 seats in the Senate as opposed to the 26 seats given states formerly with the Confederacy, which currently houses only about a quarter of the country.
The Review keeps a tally of rankings of states by a variety of standards. Seven of the currently ten worst ranked states are in the South including Graham’s South Carolina and McConnell’s Kentucky. No southern state makes it to the top ten.
We tend to think that the civil rights movement ended the old south. Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell remind us that’s not the case.