“Southern White” as an ethnicity (crossposted from Crooked Timber)

A while ago, I posted about the supposed capture of the ‘white working class’ by Republicans, pointing out that the term was being used to refer to those with less than college education. On more traditional measures of class, such as income, the Democrats do much better, though still getting only about half the vote.

In response to this post a number of commenters pointed out that the data was not disaggregated by region, and that the South was anomalous. A couple of things I’ve seen recently support this. Here’s Charles Blow, reporting that 90 per cent of white voters in Mississippi supported Romney. Kevin Drum observes that Obama won about 46 percent of the white vote outside the South and 27 percent of the white vote in the South. Here’s a bit more from The Monkey Cage.

It strikes me that the best way to understand the distinctive characteristics of US voting patterns is to to treat “Southern White ” as an ethnicity, like Hispanic. With that classification each of the major parties becomes an coalition between a solid bloc vote from an ethnic minority and around half the votes of the “non-Southern white” ethnic majority, which is more likely to vote on class lines. The question then is which ethnic/class coalition is bigger. As in other countries, voting for the more rightwing party is correlated, though not perfectly with higher incomes and (conditional on income) lower education, and to shift according to broader ideological movements.

Is it legitimate to treat Southern Whites as a separate ethnic group? Certainly, plenty of Southerners thought so at the time of the Civil War. Since then, Southern whites have made strong claims to a separate cultural heritage, defined in opposition both to blacks (and also through historic and recent conflicts with Hispanics) and to Northern Whites.

Obviously, this is a matter of self-identification. Not all light-skinned people who live in the South (however defined) would regard themselves as “Southern Whites”, and self-identifying Southerners do not necessary lose their identification by living elsewhere. But it seems likely that voting patterns would be even more strongly predicted by self-ascribed Southernness than by the regional data that’s available.

In political terms, a classification like this would support and extend the “Whistling Past Dixie“. analysis of Thomas Schaller. To the extent that white Southerners vote on ethnic lines, hostile to key Democratic ideas, it makes little sense to try for a class-based message that panders to (for example) Confederate nostalgia. Rather, the best hope is that younger generations will cease identifying with the South and regard themselves just as Americans or even (Utopianism alert) just as human beings.

In the meantime, the demographic trends are favorable. The ethnic population balance is shifting from White Southerners to Blacks, Hispanics and Asians. So, as long as this alignment remains stable and the Democrats continue to gain ground with younger voters in general, the odds shift in their favor.

64 thoughts on ““Southern White” as an ethnicity (crossposted from Crooked Timber)

  1. Yes.

    And Southern states, notably North Carolina, Texas and Georgia, are experiencing rapid immigration from elsewhere in the US*.

    There exists a process of acculturation that incorporates immigrants into local cultural forms and outlooks. But there is also a perpetuation of imported attitudes. In other words, many “damn Yankees” live in the South.

    *The same can said of Florida, but this state has such a complex social geography, it disqualifies itself as a “Southern” state in any meaningful sense.

  2. Talk of ethnic trends forget history. The Democrats controlled congress for most years from 1932 to 1994. The republicans have done rather well in Congress for most of the time since then.

    Notions of identity and political affiliations can change dramatically. It is assumed that ethnic minorities will continue to identify and vote as ethnic minorities.

    Consider the 19th and 20th century mass immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe:
    • Initially outsiders, they aligned with the political party that most identified with their concerns in the fourth party system between 1896 and 1932.

    • As these Southern and Eastern European migrants rose out of the working-class and joined the middle class, they assimilated fully into American life.

    • Their political preferences were now those of whites and less dependent on their racial or ethnic traits than on factors like education, wealth, and geography.

    HT: http://prospect.org/article/democrats-demographic-dreams

  3. Katz, James Heckman spoke growing up in the South for two years in the late 1950s and his return in 1963 and in 1970 at http://www.minneapolisfed.org/publications_papers/pub_display.cfm?id=3278

    His parents, when they arrived from the North, had a delegation of neighbours knock on their door to explain Southern ways

    There was organised segregation in 1963. His 1963 visit to several southern states with a college roommate from Nigeria was even monitored by a local sheriff. In Birmingham, he stayed at the black YMCA. People there were frightened to death because he was breaking the local Jim Crow laws. Shops closed in New Orleans to avoid serving them.

    In 1970, Heckman re-visited New Orleans as an academic, going back to the same places. They were completely integrated. This rapid social change fascinated him.

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 broke the control of segregationists over their political and legal institutions. The racial segregation collapsed because it could no longer rely on Jim Crow laws and the private violence and boycotts through the white citizens councils which police turned a blind eye too when they were not actively involved.

  4. I don’t mean integration between white and black. I mean integration into interest groups defined by wealth and status.

  5. katz, Poole and Rosenthal found that for most of American history, a single ideological dimension (the role of government in the economy or conflict over economic redistribution) explained congressional roll call voting. For two periods (the 1830s-1840s and the 1940s-1960s) there was a second dimension of race.

    Poole and Rosenthal showed that from the New Deal until the 1970s, there was a three party system: Republicans, Northern and Southern Democrats. More recently, the USA returned to a single dimension and a two party system. Since the 1970s, more Democrats were consistently liberal, more Republicanswere conservatives.

    Over that time, the democrats and republicans moved a lot across the US political spectrum as the third, fourth, fifth and sixth party systems emerged.

    See http://www.ou.edu/special/albertctr/extensions/fall2005/Poole.pdf

  6. The United States according to David Hackett Fisher is divided into four separate regional cultures (there are a few others like Mexican dominated South-Western area called El-Norte), which are probably more different to each other culturally as different European countries are. My reckoning that among Whites Obama did quite well among those in Greater Yankeeland and the Midlands, which pretty cover the USA outside the old confederate states. While Obama did really poorly among those of the Scots-Irish dominated greater Appalachia and somewhat less so among those in the Lowland South.

  7. @Katz

    Florida was the first state to secede, and has deep Southern cultural roots. South Florida is a cocktail of retired Democratic Jewish voters from the north-east and Republican voting anti-Castro Cubans. Tampa and Jacksonville are essentially Republican voting military cities. The panhandle is Old South. As the saying goes, the more north [in Florida] you go, the more southern it gets.

  8. One variable that is often overlooked in the analysis of demographics is that Democratic-leaning parts of the country tend to have lower birth rates than Republican-leaning parts. More particularly, white liberals tend to have lower birth rates than white conservatives. A side effect of this is that white liberal parts of the country tend to be ageing faster. The two states with the oldest populations are Maine and Vermont, both white, liberal enclaves.

    It is somewhat ironic that a lot of the post-election talk has been of how the Republican Party is on the losing side of the demographic divide because it is the party of the older and whiter sections of the population. And yet the two states that are the oldest and whitest are Democrat strongholds.

    It is difficult to predict what the impact of this will be. For example, could it be that if white conservatives outbreed white liberals then the Republican Party will be able to offset the Democrat advantage among the growing non-white population by winning a larger majority of white voters? That is perhaps unlikely. Even though children are more likely to follow the political preferences of their parents, a portion of the offspring of white conservatives will still follow the pattern of being more liberal in their younger years.

    But it is likely that if white liberal parts of the country (in sections of the north-east, upper mid-west, and west coast) die off quicker than other demographics, this will lead to a fall in the share of Congressional districts and Electoral College votes that are safe Democratic as a result of reapportionment due to population changes.

  9. In the current election, Romney won a smaller percentage of the white vote in the key battleground states compared to his overall share of the white on a national level. That is because the Obama campaign depicting him as an evil predatory capitalist hurt his support among white working-class voters in the battleground states. It did not hurt his support among white voters outside the battleground states as much, simply because the campaigns don’t bother to devote the same resources to states that are not competitive.

    If the Republicans had nominated a candidate who could poll better among white working-class voters, they could still have won a narrow victory in the Electoral College (despite the demographic changes such as the increase in the number of racial minorities and single women that favour Democrats). The white working-class vote is still the most important swing constituency. In other words, the Republicans could still have scored a narrow victory by piecing together what is left of the Reagan coalition. Whether further demographic shifts will swamp that in future elections remains to be seen.

  10. I do not know why there is all this talk of how ethno-demographic trends will decide elections.

    The major voter demographic is more and more voters are swinging voters. There are fewer and fewer rusted-on voters.

    The other voter demographic is the average age of voters is rising. Older people are wiser in the ways of the world and vote for right-wing parties more often for that reason.

    There is no gender analysis either. Women change their vote more often than men depending on whether they are single, married, divorced or a single mother.

  11. One would expect older people to be wiser but in my experience they generally are not except perhaps in matters of personal life management which one would call prudence rather than wisdom. I can say this being oldish myself (58). Older people are a bit more cautious in matters involving money and personal planning for tomorrow. Other than this they tend to be no wiser in any true sense of the meaning of wisdom, oftentimes left behind by progress and changes in technology and mores, confirmed in all their prejudices and unwilling to admit new views or new information. The fact that many older people move to the conservative right simply confirms that the conservative right is the natural home of prejudice, ossification and narrowing of sentiment and views. Truly wise people fight this trend and move to the left as they grow older.

  12. Ikonoclast, for a discussion of how as people hit middle age their youthful radicalism is replaced with conservatism see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/7887888/Champagne-socialists-not-as-left-wing-as-they-think-they-are.html

    The paper is based on a study of 136,000 people in the World Values Survey. The data was from 48 different countries, during five periods between 1981 and 2008.
    – Participants were asked to choose whether they saw themselves as leftwing or rightwing.
    – The results were then compared with their responses to more detailed questions about their views, to determine how closely the participants own perception matched their real position on the ideological spectrum.

    Well-educated individuals are more likely to wrongly characterise their political position, thinking that they are more left-wing than they actually are. Holding down a job and raising a family leads them to adopt a more conservative outlook.

    One reason the left-intellectuals do not realise that they have shed their youthful liberalism is that they socialise with people going through the same ideological shift to the right.

  13. It’s probably worth noting that the centre moves to the left over time – i.e. how people definte left, centre and right shifts over time. And most of the disagreement in these conversations come from definition issues.

  14. Jim Rose :The major voter demographic is more and more voters are swinging voters. There are fewer and fewer rusted-on voters.

    This is typically ignorant. The overwhelming majority of “independents”, who people think are all swing voters, are leaners who consistently vote with one party or another but refuse to identify themselves with it. Only a small portion of the electorate consists of “true swing voters” (aka persuadables), and there is no evidence of a trend in the number of those voters.

  15. @Ikonoclast

    My take on the topic you’ve raised, is that how ‘wise’ (my definition being thinking and opinions based on unbiased, free from logical fallacies, backing with reasons and evidence for a particular subject) a person becomes when he/she ages depends on how the person engage in thinking.

    It is common, if it does not apply to everyone, everytime, that people learn from life experiences and that people’s feeling towards the those life experiences construct one’s thinking. Thus it is in my opinion, crucial to rethink one’s position on certain matters from the basics once in a while to avoid self delusion and becoming dogmatic. The way I usually engaging in thinking a certain matter is to think it from different sides and then reach conclusion based on evidence (if available), logics, and from results and experience (I try not to rely on results and experience due their deceptive nature depending on topic).

    A lot of people who I personally know, reach their conclusion based on initial feeling and/or life experience on a lot of topic and never thought of trying to think the topic from a different side and on a different level. This sort of thinking will hardly give people ‘wisdom’ no matter how long they have lived.

  16. Psychological research would offer a couple of well researched underlying factors in the move to “conservatism” with age. Firstly, the direct loss of cognitive capability. As people age their ability to process information decreases. When younger they might do some kind of research, eg, reading and listening to form opinions; as they age this process becomes more difficult and less effective so they will tend to rely on preformed ideas. These include habits of thought but importantly, old brain responses that have been evolutionarily programmed in the pleistocene (tribalism, fear/aggression, xenophobia, etc).

    Related, but not exactly the same is the loss of physiological resources as we age, the “grumpy old man/woman” thing. Despite being highly evolved for energy efficiency, the brain requires about a quarter of our total physiological resource to run, and this increases the more we think. The old, the stressed, and the simply tired are more likely to say “I can’t be bothered thinking about that.”

    This isn’t a complete description of anything but it is an underlying driver. Keeping fit as you age will tend to make you more thoughtful, open to a more complex and less habit-driven intellectual life, and left wing. Becoming unfit, sick, stressed will tend to move you to the right.

  17. @Jim Birch
    There is certainly some truth in that. Another reason why it often becomes harder for people to assimilate new information and understanding as they age is simply that the longer you have lived, and the more of one’s life has been invested in certain attitudes and beliefs, the harder it is emotionally and psychologically to acknowledge that what you believe may be wrong.

    While age sometimes brings wisdom and experience, it can just as easily lead to mental atrophy and a hardening of maladaptive and defunct beliefs and behaviours. Age only really brings wisdom if you allow yourself to learn and change your beliefs.

  18. There is the saying that “we are what we eat”. Another saying is that “we perform as we are treated”.

    The US South had a different pace of colonisation to the north with more interference from the British, their larger market for their cotton and tobacco, and the supplier of their slaves. The North was more industrial, servicing the west as the US colonised itself. So naturally their is a difference in values between the North and the South, but not sufficient to be defined ethnically, unless one specifically seeks out that destinction.

    If ethnicity could be so generated then we would have to look carefully at our own latest rapidly growing “coloured” group, the Fluoros. From where has this new breed emerged? They come from amoungst the average Australian demographic but have quickly developed unique behavioural patterns which stand them apart from other Australians. From my own area in the Blue Mountains we now see a time of day when the fluoros emerge and move almost as one to their foraging habitats around the city. It is on their return, usually less homogenous than their morning appearence, that we can see the evolving seperation of this group from the mainstream.

    I know about this because a friend of mine was froced, when his wife decided to give up here $100m a year job to spend time with her children nudging the house husband back into the workforce, an uneasy transition. Despite having a degree in farming the only work available is that of the Fluoro. So now every morning he joins the early brightly coloured throng heading for the city. However he returns later than the average fluoro and finds himself unwelcome on the white collar train. Fortunately my friend,….and I have to say that I am proud to have a fluoro as a friend, there I’ve said it……boards the train ahead of the white collar rush so always has the pick of the seats. But what happens next is that white collars appear reluctant to be seen sitting next to a fluoro. So my friend regularly has 2 seats to himself. It seems that collar colour is one thing, but body colour is another, so the white collars would rather sit on the steps than sit next to a fluoro.

    Are we seeing a new ethnic group emerging here? If the fluros are treated that way then they will gradually take on such traits.

  19. Joe Bageant is interesting on this topic. Most people who read this blog are probably already familiar with his work. In Rainbow Pie he writes at some length on the Scottish-Irish/Ulster Scots/”borderers” background of a lot of the poorer white population of the US south. He’s not terribly complimentary about them either! But the idea of Southern Whites as an ethnicity may be quite on the money.

  20. @PeakVT then how did labor drop to 25% of the primary vote in two recent state elections? 1/3rd of the national primary vote is now a good result for labor.

  21. @Jim Birch You forgot to mention that judgement improves with age. Some call it wisdom. Why do people look to parents and grand-parents for advice? Many decision-making tasks require experience, which increases with age.

    As people age, they accumulate retirement savings and pay-off mortgages. Their main source of stress is the over-weaning conceit of youth so frequently encapsulated in their own wayward children and grandchildren who more often take drugs, drink to excess, do not save for tommorow and get involved in extremist politics.

    Why do political parties spend so much time cultivating the grey power vote if it is rusted-on through cognitive decline and therefore unlikely to change?

  22. @Jim Rose

    Why do political parties spend so much time cultivating the grey power vote if it is rusted-on through cognitive decline and therefore unlikely to change?

    1. Not all of them are rusted on or in cognitive decline
    2. Those rusted onto your side have more time to support you on the ground and may donate more.
    3. Respect for older people rates well with non-“old” people (35-55) who know that one day, they will be “old”.

    That all noted, political parties are not as rational as one might suppose. The ALP has repeatedly shot itself in the foot pandering to people who really are rusted on to the other side — on asylum seekers, the mining tax, the US alliance, Israel, homophobia, euthanasia, drug policy, the deficit and fiscal policy, the environment in general etc …

    Even if there weren’t good reasons to pitch at older citizens, they might well anyway.

  23. @Fran Barlow does not say much for your debating skills that when you encounter questions or disagreement, you attribute it to ignorance or being gaga.

    you and the employer federations ought to get together and discuss the merits of laws against discrimination on the grounds of age.

  24. @Jim Rose

    does not say much for your debating skills that when you encounter questions or disagreement, you attribute it to ignorance or being gaga.

    An impressive objection — to someone who wants to impress you with their debating skills. In the unlikely even that I became interested in impressing someone with my debating skills, it would be someone withe more intellectual and ethical acumen than you appear to possess.

    I will note in passing that independently of what a reasonable person might make of my debating skills, if a person who disagrees with me turns out to be ignorant or unhinged {“gaga”} my debating skills — great or modest — will be at most a footnote.

  25. @Fran Barlow Is there evidence of deliberation leading to better public policy outcomes? The major effect of deliberation appears to be to make groups more extreme than they were when they started to talk.

    deliberation may increase conflicts by bringing them more into the open and harm the interests of the politically weak who are less able than others to participate in deliberation.

  26. @Jim Rose
    Jim, as for the whole debate about whether partisanship is declining and the number of swing voters and independents are increasing, I am fairly sure other commenters were talking primarily about the American situation and not Australia. While there may be some support for what you claim in Australia, it is most certainly not the situation in the US.

    In the US, the opposite trend has been very much apparent for at least the last decade or more. There has been a vast increase in partisanship and polarisation of the electorate, and the number of genuine independents is declining. Many people who identify as independents are really partisans who just do not want to identify their partisanship. There has also been a decline in split-ticket voting, where voters support one party’s presidential candidate but vote the other way in the Senate or House. For example, in Massachusetts a moderate Republican (Scott Browne) lost to a leftist ideological Democrat (Elizabeth Warren). Is that consistent with a decline in partisanship and rise of independents and swing voters?

    I am not entirely sure if the large swings against Labor in NSW and Queensland are a sign of declining partisanship or simply a sign that people who are normally reliably partisan will still sometimes vote the other way if things are bad enough. Historically, a lot of state election results have been more one-sided than at the federal level (partly because there is greater variation across the nation which evens things out, but also because state politics is more pedestrian and less ideological so the electorate is less polarised).

  27. Jim Rose :
    save for tommorow and get involved in extremist politics.
    Why do political parties spend so much time cultivating the grey power vote if it is rusted-on through cognitive decline and therefore unlikely to change?

    The main reason is because those who are retired from the workforce and no longer raising children have far more spare time on their hands to devote to various causes, but particularly lobbying for their own interests. People who are still working long hours and raising families don’t have all day free to call in to talkback radio, write letters to the paper, contact Members of Parliament and so on. The squeaky chain gets the grease, and the old do tend to complain more until they get what they want.

    But I do believe political parties are not entirely rational and they tend to exaggerate the electoral benefits of policies tailored to the grey vote. In countries with voluntary voting such as the US, older generations tend to vote in higher proportion to the young. But in Australia compulsory voting evens that out.

  28. @Monkey’s Uncle Gargy Becker argues that government spending grew in many countries in the 20th century because of demographic shifts, more efficient taxes, more efficient spending, a shift in the political power from those taxed to those subsidized, shifts in political power among taxed groups, and shifts in political power among subsidized groups. Long term regulatory and budgetary trends are consistent with growth in the political power of the subsidised groups – especially the elderly.

  29. @monkey’suncle:

    For example, in Massachusetts a moderate Republican (Scott Browne) lost to a leftist ideological Democrat (Elizabeth Warren).

    Without buying into the labels … Elizabeth Warren is best described a small-l liberal democrat …

    Last week he embraced waterboarding. Last month he expressed skepticism that climate change is being caused by humans. He has even denounced two national proposals that he supported in Massachusetts as a lawmaker – mandatory health care coverage and a cap-and-trade system to cut global warming gases.


    To be sure, the 30-year National Guardsman from Wrentham would never have been called a social liberal. Long a foe of gay marriage and a “tax-and-spend mentality,’’ Brown calls himself a social moderate, and his work in the Legislature has focused on issues such as tightening restrictions on sex offenders.

    I believe – and he has stated – that he would vote for a [Supreme Court] nominee who would be opposed to Roe v. Wade,’’ said John Rowe, who heads the antiabortion group’s political action committee. Brown’s campaign says he would be willing to do so, but he does not view abortion as a litmus test for a Supreme Court nominee either way.

    Clearly, he’s saying something to them that makes them feel that he would fit right in with the hard-right of the Republican Party in Washington,’’ said John Walsh, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. “He’s trying to have it both ways, I think. Scott is trying very hard to fit into the Rush Limbaugh wing of the party

  30. @Jim Rose
    Goodonya Jim,
    so you don’t like Fran and decend into an attack on her, strangely enough by accusing her of making personal attacks. The first personal attack for this thread… It’s gold, gold, gold for Jim.
    Epic fail

  31. @Harleymc Fran is well able to look after herself.

    Influencing skills might have been a better choice of words than debating skills.

    I have pointed out frequently that many people from many different perspectives attribute their differences with others to their ignorance or moral turpitude, preferable both. That is no basis to persuade to change their minds or win their vote.

  32. @Jim Rose

    I have pointed out frequently that many people from many different perspectives attribute their differences with others to their ignorance or moral turpitude, preferable both. That is no basis to persuade to change their minds or win their vote.

    There are some minds and votes that cannot be changed. Pointing out how this has come about is salutary, at least for those who want to think, learn and acquire the skills needed to become worthy citizens. Not wasting one’s time or worse, pandering to the incorrigible is a valuable thing to those moved by an ethical attachment to the wellbeing of working humanity.

    PS: Thanks Harley. I value your impulse.

  33. @Fran Barlow There are far fewer rusted-on voters than you think; plenty of working class Tories.

    The ALP lost one-third of its vote in recent state elections. Some American presidents were elected in landslides. The green vote often goes up and down.

    • People are more likely to vote to the Right as they gain more experience of the world, have responsibilities and children, and they can reflect on personally living through different policies, governments, and types of political leaders.

    • The before and afters of Thatcherism, Rogernomics, Reagan, the cold war and the Berlin Wall are for them personal memories rather than books they just read at university.

    There are so many ex-communists that they even hold second thoughts conferences. Were not many of the neo-cons retired Trots?

    Hayek commented that the relative ease with which a young communist could be converted into a Nazi or vice versa was well known. Communists and Nazis clashed more frequently because they competed for the same type of mind and reserved for each other the hatred for the heretic.

    Hayek also observed that while to the Nazi the communist, and to the communist the Nazi, and to both the socialist are potential recruits “made of the right timber”, both knew there could be no compromise between them and those who really believed in freedom.

  34. @Mel
    I’d suggest ignoring county-level data and looking at exit poll evidence on individuals. Andrew Gelman is the go-to guy here.

    There are three main effects at play here

    * Other things equal people with high incomes are more likely to vote Republican
    * Other things equal people with high education are more likely to vote Democrat
    * Regardless of class and education, Southern whites are highly likely to vote Republican, non-whites more likely to vote Democrat

    If you have the demographic data, you can generally predict county-level outcomes using this info, whereas trying to go from county-level outcomes to predictions about individuals typically leads you astray, as in the point implied by your comment

  35. John, does the cross-sectional data on how other things equal people with high education are more likely to vote Democrat hold up in time series data?

    Educational standards have been rising for 100 years+. The Centre-Left vote has not increased. Perhaps it has gone in the other direction; Democrat party domination of the Congress ended in 1994 after a 60 year run with few interruptions.

    The centre-left has moved to the right. Australia had its last left-wing governments in 1972-75; and 1941-49 before that. There are none in prospect.

    Lower-income people are more concerned with the basics of life than with expressive utility garnered through expressive voting.

    Higher income people can afford to vote expressively for feel-good policies that give them a sense of identity and selfless moral worth. The green vote increases with income & education levels for expressive voting reasons.

  36. Since when were dirigiste economic policies the only markers of leftism?

    Since the 1960s, in the first world traditional attitudes and power structures have come under sustained attack. While the libertarian Right has participated in some of these struggles against traditionalism, the heavy lifting has been done by the broad Left.

    The more educated have largely associated themselves with challenges to cultural traditionalism, while the less educated have associated themselves with religious sentiment, sexism, patriarchal ism, and chauvinism.

    In general, and imperfectly, the ALP and the US Democrats promoted these interests more adequately than their major opponents.

  37. Thanks for that PrQ.

    Rosey: “Lower-income people are more concerned with the basics of life than with expressive utility garnered through expressive voting.”

    Another way of looking at it is that lower income people are more easily manipulated by populists on both the right and the left; the right populists can stoke fears of gays, uppity women, ethnic minorities and start a war to provoke an outbreak of patriotism etc while the left populists can stoke envy.

    Rosey again: “Educational standards have been rising for 100 years+. The Centre-Left vote has not increased.”

    True Rosey, but you miss the point as in many ways the political centre of gravity has lurched leftwards over the last 100 years. The major right-wing parties in most western democracies accept many of the 20th century left initiatives re human rights and the welfare state. Not even crazy old Mr Rabbit wants to abolish Medicare and take babies off single mothers. Or if he does, he doesn’t dare say so publicly 🙂

  38. @Mel,

    This is a fascinating topic. The division of phenomenon into “right” and “left” all depend on what the sorting criteria are. The difficulty is compounded by the heavy use of glittering generalities (ie, the right proclaims that they are for “freedom and liberty”). To my mind, over thousands of years we see a shift towards democratic institutions and human rights and institutions in which the needs of more and more people are considered (eg central banking and monetary policy, child labour laws, the social net, environmental protection laws). If you divide the right and the left on a quick and dirty “establishment” vs “populism” axis I conclude that humanity is edging slowly towards the left with a current countertrend move a few decades old which is inclining towards the political right.

    Again, this whole field is violently partisan and there are no fixed answers. One example of (IMO) hackery is the current movement to split politics among a “freedom” vs “government” axis such as that espoused by a US historian called Jonah Goldberg. The conclusion of that whole “field” is that the left-wing has a preference for “big government” and wants to use said big government to oppress other citizens. Such a statement is ludicrously moronic and relies on extreme cherrypicking (eg Hitler was a vegetarian and the Nazis hated smoking).

    If the left got the entirety of what they want the result would doubtless be 20th century communism, or so the argument goes. But an analysis of communism how it was actually implemented shows a marked lack of democratic institutions, fundamental disrespect for human rights, lack of opportunity, and the classic authoritarian use of the military and police to maintain power. If the term “communism” were never coined, we would call the regimes as practiced by Stalin, Mao et. al. tyrannies or dictatorships which had adopted a very unique economic structure and we would be more likely to place these forms of government on the right side of the political spectrum.

  39. One of the many things Jim Rose hasn’t paid attention to is that the Democrat vote collapsed in the South after the successes of the civil rights movement – in other words, all those southern racists moved to the Republicans.

  40. @MG42

    It is an interesting proposition. The old commun|sm = f@scism and similar silly excursions into essentialism have been around long enough for Trotsky to have taken a swing at it, most notably, here in 1938.

    A moralizing Philistine’s favorite method is the lumping of reaction’s conduct with that of revolution. He achieves success in this device through recourse to formal analogies. To him czarism and Bolshevism are twins. Twins are likewise discovered in fascism and communism. An inventory is compiled of the common features in Catholicism – or more specifically, Jesuitism – and Bolshevism. Hitler and Mussolini, utilizing from their side exactly the same method, disclose that liberalism, democracy, and Bolshevism represent merely different manifestations of one and the same evil. The conception that Stalinism and Trotskyism are “essentially” one and the same now enjoys the joint approval of liberals, democrats, devout Catholics, idealists, pragmatists, and anarchists. If the Stalinists are unable to adhere to this “People’s Front”, then it is only because they are accidentally occupied with the extermination of Trotskyists.

    At least for those of us who are on the left the dividing line remains the relationship on the producers (a.k.a. the workers) to the means of production. Societies in which labour power is a saleable commodity, in which production is not planned collectively and in which the forces of production can be bought and traded are capitalist. Those who assert that such arrangements are the best of all possible worlds are on the right of politics. They are defenders of the system, regardless of their views on “big” or “small” government, personal liberty, civil society, equal opprtunity or anything else. Conversely, those who see such arrangements as at most a temporary accommodation with scarcityand the relatively undeveloped state of class cosciousness amongst the producers, to be transcended by economies in which the planning of the producers is decisive in what is produced and how the burdens of labour and its benefits are settled is on the left.

    A great many people of course, grope uneasily between these two positions.

    Stalinist governments have certainly not been ‘capitalist’ in any meaningful sense — the means of production are not tradeable. The ruling castes could not sell them or alienate them at will or even inherit them. Their workers were paid but they were unable to trade their labour freely in any sense. Yet although these economies were planned, they were not ‘socialist’ in any meangfulway because the producers had no definite relationship to the planning process. The property was collectively held but the executive was a form of autocracy. This was a collectivist autocracy, as opposed, for example to a dynastic autocracy in which most property passes along bloodlines. The DPRK has a form of dynastic rule in which the property remains state owned but rulership is inherited.

    The problem here of course is that civil libertarian positions are generally associated with ‘leftism’ — since the left is opposed to the existing establishment which has traditionally been socially conservative. These days of course, pro-capitalist libertarians also espouse civil-rights and personal freedom claims, as their predecessors did during the late 19th century when capitalism was growing and tearing down the religious and quasi-religious mores associated with feudalism. Accordingly, being a civil libertarian makes you socially anti-conservartive, but not necessarily politically leftist. I’d argue that to do meet this latter standard you need to see equity and inclusion as inseparable from liberty in the de jure sense,and that retruns us to the question of which class — the capitalists or the producers — should rule.

  41. Thanks for your insightful comments, MG 42.

    Yes indeed, the situation is much more complicated than my post suggested. I was merely rebutting Rose’s shallow right analysis with a similarly shallow left analysis 🙂

    Communism was a product of the left and I have no doubt that the original North Korean and Russian communists were a genuine bunch, however ideology cannot trump reality, the latter being vastly more complicated, ruthless and unforgiving than the former, consequently ideological fervour and group affinity evaporate and everybody naturally fights tooth and nail for whatever meagre scraps are on offer. In other words, Communism was always going to end in savagery.

    ” If you divide the right and the left on a quick and dirty “establishment” vs “populism” axis I conclude that humanity is edging slowly towards the left with a current countertrend move a few decades old which is inclining towards the political right.”

    As much as I loathe Communism I think the countertrend you mention is largely the result of the collapse of communism. The right no longer fear a working class revolt and the working class is more divided than ever and easily manipulated by the right.

    Also important- the progressive program of multiculturalism and associated ideologies like identity politics has been a Godsend for the right. It is hardly surprising that a poor white labourer in the Deep South feels greater affinity a rich white Northerner but distrusts and resents the Hispanic family next door. After all, the Hispanic family identifies as Hispanic first and second and working class only a distant third, moreover it is working class white children who get screwed by affirmative action (there is a vast literature on this topic).

    Reality is vastly more complicated that any ideology will allow, that is why I am a very conservative, moderate lefty.

  42. Jim Rose @40, have a read of this:


    which includes the following quote from Isaac Deutscher:

    “As a rule the intellectual ex-communist ceases to oppose capitalism. Often he (sic) rallies to its defence, and he brings to this job the lack of scruple, the narrow-mindedness, the disregard for truth, and the intense hatred with which stalinism has imbued him. He remains a sectarian. He is an inverted stalinist. He continues to see the world in white and black, but now the colours are differently distributed. . . he denounces even the mildest brand of the ‘welfare state’ as ‘legislative bolshevism’. . . Having once been caught by the ‘greatest illusion’, he is now obsessed by the greatest disillusionment of our time.”
    (Deutscher, 1957 in Mills, 1963: 346)

  43. @David Irvin (no relation) The GOP did not win the Dixiecrat vote. It died out. It was younger southerners who supported the GOP.

    The previous three democrats to win the presidency were Southerners voted in with the help of the South. Carter and Clinton got a bump in the primaries by saying they would be more competitive in the South. George Wallace did rather well when he ran in 1968. Carter courted his voters in 1976.

    Was 2008 the first time in a long-time that a southerner has not been on the top or bottom of the Democratic Party ticket?

    According to the very helpful Wiki, Johnston and Shafer argued the GOP gains flowed from the emergence of what they called an “upper middle class in that region”. Working-class whites voted Democrat until the 1990s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s