Monday, November 18, 2002

Haven't been a lot of posts here lately, but I'm going to call this whole war on terror thing right now: it's the last stand of WASP, and white, supremacy in the U.S. That's the subtext to all of this nationalism stuff. Let me elaborate.

Up until the '60s the U.S. power structure (military, economic, political) was dominated by people who could trace their ancestry back to the time of the revolution and who were either English or Scottish, with a smattering of Dutch in New York State...this was the case even though the U.S. had been a strongly multi-ethnic society since the huge waves of immigration which characterized the late 19th century. To put this in perspective: even though the Irish were as large an ethnic group as people from the present UK, and even though they had largely assimilated and gotten honorary Anglo priveleges by the '60s, people were still concerned about the fact that an Irish Catholic, John F. Kennedy, was running for President.

The Germans have also attained honorary Anglo status in the U.S.

What happened in the '60s was that this dynamic started to change: WASP and honorary WASP ancestry became less and less important to social status, as David Brooks catalogues in "BoBos in Paradise". This took place in tandem with a great democratizing movement.

It's no coincidence. American history had been looked on before then with a wink and a nod that said "Well, we were fighting to preserve the rights of Englishmen, that liberty doesn't automatically apply to everyone". Not to speak of Slavery, but that's another topic. Rights in America were understood as being the privelege of Anglo Americans, who resisted the idea that the rights talked about in the Declaration of Independence applied to everyone equally. Everyone else had to fight to get equal rights. They're still fighting, as the trials and tribulations of Hispanics in America demonstrates.

The source of all this was the foundation of the American concept of "rights". In opposition to the French conception of Rights of men and of Citizens, American rights discourse was founded on the idea that the English enjoyed a form of primitive utopia before Feudalism was imposed on them in 1066, and that therefore the overthrow of the monarchy in the colonies gave back to an ethnic group a state of freedom and equality which it believed it originally had. This is particularistic in the extreme. Yet if you examine the record, there it is: people talking about the aim of the American Revolution as not the restructuring of society but a return to the ideals of the English Constitution that were violated by the monarchy's actions.

Significantly, very significantly, the leaders of the American Revolution were not descended from Puritans. America wasn't a second English Revolution. Instead, the heartland of the American Revolution was the Mid Atlantic States: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia. These were states which could be categorized as liberal Anglican with regards to religion. The Anglican church based it's dogma much more on a consideration of natural religion and early Anglo-Saxon spirituality than the Puritans of New England, who based their worldview on only viewing the Bible and it's commentaries as valid in terms of explaining the world around them. In England the Puritans in the English Civil War established a strong rights tradition based in religious absolutism which was the foundation of later English liberalism, ironicly.

The U.S. didn't go through the same process. The liberal Anglican beliefs of the mid atlantic states were no doubt heavily influenced by the thought of the English Civil War, but it was transposed into a Whig format which rejected the blunt edge of Puritanism. Massachusets, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine are still very conservative States due to their Puritan heritage, with Boston being infamous in the mid 20th century for banning "obscene" literature.

So the mid-atlantic states gave an English-centered spin to our rights discourse. What's happening now is something that I suspect has happened in South America already: we're turning into an Anglophone society as opposed to an Anglo society. Anglophone, in this sense, means a society dominated by English speakers who have to some extent assimilated into Anglo ways but who are not of English descent and who are not interested in totally assimilating to the Anglo ideal.

I suspect that Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay have had similar experiences, or are having them: they're swiftly on a course to being Spanish and Portugese speaking countries which are dominated by people who aren't of either Spanish or Portugese descent and who haven't surrendered their ethnic identity for the Spanish or Portugese ideal.

It's tantalizing to suppose that the U.S. became a haven for liberty once the revolution was over. But twas not so. The property of Loyalists was conviscated, destroying a large part of the entrenched social structure, but the fortunes which sprang up in their place and which dominated the U.S. until the '60s were just as Anglo, albeit more liberal. So it was like although the branch was cut off from the tree it sprouted it's own roots and grew parallel but seperate from it's mother.

A big thing that enforced anglo supremacy in the U.S. was Slavery and Segregation in the South. Slave owning wasn't something that immigrants usually got in on. In the South the dominance of the Anglo plantation owner and his descendents over black slaves was a living example of the idea that American liberty was only for people who were culturally Anglo. To this day people justify discrimination against blacks because of percieved cultural traits which put blacks beyond the pale for some whites.

When segregation fell in the South the last barrier to a universal conception of human rights in America was gone.

Anglo particularism could no longer be maintained on that precedent, nor could it be maintained through exclusive colleges, since in the postwar world high college attendence by a broad cross section of people destroyed that vestige of WASP privelege.

But, unfortunately, like many injustices, Anglo-American particularism reared it's ugly head many times after the fall of segregation. The nineties, however, were a time of slow but steady democratization. Clinton was not Reagan and not Bush I. While his presidency wasn't a stellar victory for minorities it at least established the breathing room neccesary to work for a multi-ethnic society where people viewed each other as equals.

The current bout of reaction is a sort of last ditch effort to keep that democratization and universalization of rights from happening. Bush is a child of privelege, one of the last. Accordingly, a very good article in the New Yorker Magazine from pre-election time about Bush points out that his development during a time of quickly diminishing possibilities for the priveleged but talentless shaped his conservative viewpoint.

The current coalition which controls the White House is based on the support of poor Anglos who feel that they're being cheated out of their birthright by other ethnic groups, Protestant fundamentalists who view secular (and Catholic) culture, with it's promise of equal opportunity, as a similar threat to privelege. Rich Anglo businessmen who feel that they should have unfettered control over the economic structure of the U.S. are also big supporters. The minorities Bush has assembled have all taken the high-assimilationist road, giving up their ethnic identities to be plastic Anglos.

Chip Berlet, an authority on the radical right in America, has pointed out that many people who would formerly be classified as white supremacists these days don't want to destroy minorities, they just want them to act like them---and think like them---and live like them.

Bush's push for Nationalism over all is a last ditch effort by this coalition to remain in power---over the will of the majority Anglophone America.

Nationalism doesn't just have domestic implications---Bush and company have eagerly pinned Patriotism to the denial of the International Criminal Court, pulling out of Arms treaties, pulling out of Environmental agreements, and pushing the U.N. around. All of this grows out of the particularist view point. The lackeys around the current administration realize this. One of them commented that efforts to classify housing as a universal human right were the product of a worldview which wants to turn everything into a right. There is also an official in charge of a portion of the ecological regulation who commented in a similar vein that there are no such things as ecosystems.

People in general in America don't believe in extreme particularism. They're open to and in support of universalized rights and the international agreements and cooperation that would come out of recognizing that there are universal principles essential to decent human existence which the rest of the world has assented to and which we would be welcome partners in recognizing. The majority of people in the U.S. at this time are Anglophone. I say this tentatively.

Due to the decentralization of the U.S., though, Anglos have disproportionate political and social power. Right now the war on terror is really a war between established ethnic privelege in the U.S. and a just multicultural society, which is what the numerical majority of U.S. citizens want. Racial problems would be mitigated in such an arrangement, where blacks would be recognized as just another ethnic group....

Take the Black vs. Anglo mentality out of the current dialogue on race and problems disappear pretty quickly, but I digress.

The war on terror is a war to save privelege. More than that it's a war to save the strategic position that rich Anglos posses due to the stature of the U.S. in the geopolitical arena. Even before the Constitution was written, commentators were writing about the strategic value of a united, large, independent, country in the New World. This faction of the elite shamelessly uses their pull with the federal government to save their investments in third world countries by force and by subversion. If America were truly democratized they wouldn't be able to carry so cavalierly.

Unfortunately, the conflict between the established economic powers and the emerging multiethnic/multiracial societies in the New World have led to military dictatorships time and time again. I hope this isn't where we're heading. But one thing is for certain: with Bush peddling Nationalism and Patriotism like he is the United States has rejoined the historical tract of New World countries. It's no longer "the Mystery". It never was, but Anglo people kept on wanting to say they were special....

Here's to human rights and universal rights from a proud ethinc mutt from a working class background!