The previous entry offered an explanation of how the culture of the political right in America today can get intelligent people to belief foolish things, and good people to lend their support to an evil force. The explanation focused in the idea of a community of forced orthodoxy of belief on matters of particular interest to the society’s dominant elite. Such coerced conformity of belief is made possible by socializing people into a particular kind of community culture that gives people the implicit understanding that on some matters of belief, one simply toes the line.
Where did that coercive kind of community come from? How did it come to be that in that nation “conceived in liberty,” there could emerge a cultural system where true freedom of belief was blocked by the power of the community over the individual?
Of course, some degree of conformity is part of all human societies, through coercive means and otherwise. But differences in history have molded different cultural systems in America, and these differences can help explain the prevalence of coerced conformity in the Republican world of today.
First, I have argued in a four-part series here already that the force that’s taken over today’s Republican Party is the re-emergence of the force that took hold of the South in the years leading up to the Civil War and then drove the nation into that terrible, bloody conflict.
Second, in the differences in history between the North and the South, we can find the root of the coercive community in matters of belief. For the culture and society of the South were more shaped by the workings of power than in the North for some clear historical reasons.
Every society has some inequalities of power, but in the South — with an economy based on slavery, and with the emergence of a powerful slaveholding class — the inequalities during the formative years of the region’s culture were far greater. *
By the time dominance of that magnitude was achieved in the North, in the latter decades of the 19th century with the rise of the robber barons and of industrial corporate capitalism, the culture of the Northern states like New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, had already been forming for more than two centuries.
In the South, by contrast, even during the most formative period in the generations before the American Revolution, much of the South was powerfully dominated by a class that drew its power from the ownership of many slaves and vast tracts of land.
It is through “the problem of power” that brokenness first began its major reverberation in the human world, with the rise of civilization, and its consequent unregulated intersocietal system. And it is through the workings of power that much of the brokenness our civilization has called “evil” gets transmitted.
With great inequalities of power already present during the formative stages of Southern society, the dominant class was in a position to shape the nature of Southern community. Over generations, that class molded a kind of community culture that would tolerate no heresies on those beliefs that were important for maintaining (and extending) the elite’s power.
Nowhere is this insistence on orthodoxy more dramatically displayed than in the treatment of the issue of slavery during the years leading up to the Civil War.
(The enforcement of orthodoxy not only reflected a higher degree of dominance than was found in the North, but it also was focused on an institution of complete dominance and exploitation– the two elements compounding the role of the Spirit of Domination.)
It is shocking for one who has grown up imagining that the liberties granted by the Bill of Rights have been the established norms of this “land of the free” to discover how little liberty was allowed in the South when it came to opinions regarding slavery.
In his excellent book, Road to Disunion, William H. Frehling describes the
“Slaveholders’ attempts to silence critics, whether by cries of disloyalty to slavery or by lynch mobs or by gag rules or by censoring the mails or by precluding Lincoln’s appointees’ campaigning…” (p. 533)
Anti-slavery literature was effectively banned from the South. Opponents of slavery could be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.
Frehling refers to the Old South’s “the Old South’s colliding goerning systems”– the one that we learn about from the Declaration of Independence, based on the “inalienable rights” of equal men and the wielding of governmental power based on “the consent of the governed,” and the other being based on that ancient principle, “The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.”
On the issue of slavery, on which the dominant power rested, power trumped democracy: “Slaveholders particularly dreaded the impact of open debate on duplicitous slaves and suspect nonslaveholders.”
The coercive community was molded to preclude “open debate.”
The whole issue of slavery got bound up, by the pronouncements and manipulations of the powerful slaveholders, in values of Southern honor. People were taught what was required to believe, and taught also to fight to protect those beliefs from any who would challenge them.
By the time the Civil War came, the culture of enforced conformity of belief on matters central to the Slaveholders’ power was well established. In the century following the Civil War, the same enforced conformity obtained with respect to the continued system of racial oppression called “Jim Crow.”
No one who cared about being in harmony with his social world could afford to be seen as an “N-word lover.”
Yesterday’s “N-word lover” is today’s “librel.”
It is not just the individual who is controlled by the power wielded by the community. It is also the community that has been shaped through history by the wielders of great power.
A political culture that is — in large measure — built upon the culture created by the slaveholding class has substituted a different set of dogmas for the old ones.
It is not only the cultural descendants of the slaveholding class — might one consider people like Texas oil tycoons as extensions of that class? — but also the Yankee corporate powers (the cultural descendants of the old Robber Barons) have gladly utilized the brokenness in Southern culture to advance their power.
The descendants of those who were socialized to conform on matters of racial domination are now taught that all government regulation of corporations amounts to tyranny, that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by pointy-headed intellectuals they call “scientists,” that money is speech and corporations are people, that if you’re worried about your liberty just prevent any regulation of guns, that any attempt to address inequalities of wealth is unAmerican class war, etc.
Thus do the patterns of brokenness, created by the reign of power, perpetuate patterns of brokenness and extend the reign of power.