by Victor Davis Hanson
Why are progressive regions of the country – especially in the old major liberal cities (e.g., Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle) – institutionalizing de facto racial quotas through “proportional representation” based on “disparate impact”? Why are they promoting ethnic and racial chauvinism, such as allowing college students to select the race of their own roommates, calibrating graduation ceremonies by skin color and tribe, segregating campus “safe spaces” by race, and banning literature that does not meet commissariat diktats?
Why are they turning into one-party political fiefdoms separating the rich and poor, increasingly resembling feudal societies as members of the middle class flee or disappear? What does it mean that they are becoming more and more intolerant in their cancel culture, and quasi-religious intolerance of dissent, on issues from climate change and abortion-on-demand to critical race theory and wokeness?
Isn’t it strange that there are entire states and regions wholly reliant on the money and power of “one-crop” Big Tech monopolies? And why, in the 21st century no less, are Democratic-controlled counties, cities, and entire states nullifying federal law?
In archetypical “states’ rights” fashion, blue-state “sanctuary cities” are as defiant of the federal government as the Old South was when it claimed immunity from federal jurisdiction – all the way from the nullification crisis of 1830-1833 to George Wallace in 1963 blocking the door at the University of Alabama.
Ask yourself: in the decades following the conclusion of the Civil War in April 1865, how might the reunited American public have answered the following hypothetical questions:
One-hundred-fifty-six years from now, in the year 2021, where in the United States will Americans most likely discriminate on the basis of race?
Where will citizens squabble over the racial percentages of ancestral bloodlines, and schools admit or reject students in part on the DNA of an applicant?
Where will free speech and expression become most endangered?
Where will states’ rights boosters deny federal officers the right to enforce federal law?
Where will the major cities be the most unsafe and the middle classes the most embattled? And from which regions of the country will people flee, and to which will they migrate?
Of course, in the century-and-a-half since the end of the Civil War, we have become in a certain sense a homogenizing country. Gender studies programs at, say, the University of Texas are not that much different from those at Yale. The same types of homeless are found in downtown Atlanta as well as in San Francisco.
But there is a growing red state/blue state divide – encompassing an economic, cultural, social, and political totality. The public seems to sense that the blue-state model is the more hysterically neo-Confederate, and the red state the calmer and more Union-like. The former appears more unsustainable and intolerant, the latter is increasingly more livable and welcoming.
The people themselves are voting with their U-Hauls. After the Civil War and during the early 20th century, Americans left the South in droves to the wide-open new West and industrialized North. Now again they are packing up – but this time to get away from the bastions of old Union liberality. People are fleeing the bright lights and supposed cultural dynamism of old New York and Chicago and “enlightened” newer cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.
What once crippled the antebellum and postbellum Old South were obsessions with race that infected every aspect of life. Like the Soviet commissariat, such one-drop fixations ultimately stagnated social life and eroded economic efficacy.
After the war and following the formal abolition of slavery, the former Confederate states returned to many of their prewar racial pathologies, albeit with even more general poverty. Before the war, Southern life had increasingly bifurcated into a medieval society of rich plantationists who stocked the government and professions, and an impoverished white laboring poor class alongside African American slaves. There were few of the middle class, to speak of, at least in any sense comparable to the yeomanry in the North, who brought their values and autonomy ever more westward.
The antebellum worship of the King Cotton monopoly discouraged innovation. It made the plantation class perhaps the richest tiny minority in history, but otherwise impoverished most others around them. The South was a ranked society. Most knew their ossified place in the social hierarchy. Even their speech, comportment, and expression reflected that reality.
Universities and colleges in the North, in contrast, for a while at least evolved into places of intellectual inquiry, classical education, and enlightened science. Immigrants and Americans alike freely moved eastward, northward, and westward, but not so much to the land of postbellum Jim Crow, which represented economic stagnation and calcified racial obsessions.
Fairly or not, America’s 19th- and early 20th-century reputation for greater freedom of thought and equal opportunity were mostly identified with large bustling cities like Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York, and their western clones such as Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.
But ask yourself – which cities today are most likely associated with lawless district attorneys who, as tribal bosses, ignore statutes and who indict or exempt criminals on personal and ideological whims? Where are crime rates most spiraling? Where is the greatest racial unrest? And where are the most homeless?
In contrast, where are taxes generally lower, but infrastructure as good as elsewhere or better? Why else would the middle classes, liberal and conservative alike, be migrating to Texas, Florida, or Tennessee and not to California, Illinois, and New York? A century ago, Americans associated the former with racial fixations, anti-enlightenment censorship, nullification, greater religious intolerance, and economic stagnation – and the latter with opportunity, live-and-let-live personal freedom, and efforts to render race incidental rather than essential to who we are.
The best example of the great reversal is the stark contrast between the Bay Area of California and Austin or Dallas. A near-majority of Bay Area residents expresses a desire to leave the state.
California’s public agencies and universities are obsessed with race and invest hundreds of millions of dollars establishing and defending de facto racial quotas in hiring and admissions, suing in courts to punish allegedly prejudicial victimizers and to reward prejudiced victims, and to squash free speech under the false charge of “hate speech.” It is a given in blue states that few in government question expensive efforts to address “climate change” or critical race theory, just as no one in the 19th-century South ever doubted the sustainability of one-crop Cotton, creationism, or the peculiar institution of slavery.
Silicon Valley emulates the power of old King Cotton – a monopoly that owns state government, one that destroys competition, censors, and smears its critics, and pours its money into elections not just to choose obsequious candidates, but to alter the very systems of balloting to ensure proper results. Like the “good ol’ boy” Old South, California is a one-party, boss-man state. Democrats, in Southern fashion, control all statewide offices, supermajorities in both houses of the legislature, and 75 percent of the congressional delegation.
Just as a few families and members of the plantation class ran a Louisiana or North Carolina plantation, so, too, California’s Bay Area bosses are mostly controlled by the regime of the Pelosis, Feinsteins, Newsoms, and Silicon Valley liberals, many of whom went into government rich, and got richer the longer they stayed.
Our current servile classes often live in cars and trailers parked on the streets outside the campuses of Stanford University, Google, and Facebook. A time traveler from the South of 1955 might dub their trailers “shanties” – given the absence of indoor plumbing, running water, or usable toilet facilities. There is little new housing construction, given that the entrenched one percent resist affordable home construction, as well as more investments in freeways, power plants, and oil and gas production. Few under 40 can afford even a modest home. Houses are mostly either inherited or the exclusive domain of the tidewater tech class. Just as the South once fought “internal improvements” and the genteel cotton baron resisted new development, so too the coastal affluent freeze their lifestyles and class privileges in amber, as they fight new industry and development that would elevate hoi polloi.
University administrators, human resources directors, and the media, like their Confederate counterparts, collude to sustain the system – demonizing and ostracizing any who question racial quotas and preferences, swerve from Democratic orthodoxy, doubt the sustainability and morality of the tech overlords, and who talk of class rather than racial categories.
In reaction, those from the blue state model who flee eastward and southward feel liberated that they can finally buy a house, sustain a viable middle-class existence, speak freely without a scold over their shoulder, and be rid of institutional dogmas that suffocate their schools and government.
We think the Old South lost the Civil War – but did it in the end?
That is, did the Union win the short-term battle to abolish slavery and save the Union, but lose the long-term war of ideas and values by adopting the very ethos of the long-defeated – even as vanquished Southerners reformed and gradually embraced the visions of the victors that the Northerners themselves would eventually reject?
In any case, in the 21st century, Tennessee and Florida are far less racially obsessed, freer, and more affordable, more transparent, more tolerant, and more law-abiding states than are the racially-fixated, stratified, manorial, and dogmatic surveillance states of California, Illinois, and New York.
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Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump and the newly released The Dying Citizen.
Photo “Ferguson Riot” by Loavesofbread CC 4.0