While we are proud of the cover package in the July/August issue of the Washington Monthly, there is, as always, a lot more to read. One item that I found particularly interesting, for obvious reasons, was Colin Woodward’s review of Chuck Thompson’s Better Off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession.
In effect Thompson spins out the fantasy I’ve read and heard in hundreds of conversations, blog posts and (especially) comment threads from frustrated non-southern progressives: Can’t we just call their bluff and let them secede, and take their crazy religion and politics and culture with them? According to Woodward (who plays the review admirably straight, despite his title,”Tempting But Insane”), the book combines an entertaining amplification of common complaints about the Crazy South with a less compelling effort to make the case that dissolving the Union would actually work. Woodward, of course, as the author of American Nations, disputes the premise that there is any single “southern culture”–or economy, or politics–or that you can confine “the South” to any compact geographical entity that can be spun off into a separate nation.
I urge you to read the whole review, but as a native southerner who has applied just about every term of abuse in the book to elements of Southern religion, politics, economic practices, and culture, I continue to challenge the fundamental premise whereby all the baleful things associated with the South are inherent to the region’s very nature and are spreading virally elsewhere. To make a very long story short, I believe you can’t understand the South without understanding a history whereby the region and its people (obviously the African-Americans but also poor white folk) were serially victimized by historical developments and predatory elites that were both internal and external. To put it another way and in a very current context, I may well believe that Scott Walker wants to model Wisconsin’s public policies and economy on South Carolina’s, but that’s mainly because Scott Walker (and many other conservative politicians from far beyond Dixie) serve ideological and economic masters, and live in a moral universe, that may be prevalent in the South (though not without massive and continue resistance from many southerners) that is no more native to the South than Hollywood culture is native to southern California. Getting rid of the South, if that were somehow possible, will no more kill off right-wing politics and culture in other parts of the country than letting California drift off into the Pacific would destroy the worship of celebrities. I’d counsel a little more sympathy for the South from northern progressives; after all, you may fear living in a replica of South Carolina, but the residents of that state have to live there now.
Besides, there’s food and music to consider.