wombat_socho (wombat_socho) wrote,

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From Hadrian's Wall to the Sunni Triangle

I haven't read anything by James Webb since A Country Such As This, which cut too close to the bone at the time I read it, and didn't see Rules of Engagement, for which Webb wrote the book. However, all the talk about his new book, Born Fighting, finally convinced me to pick it up.

There have been other, more scholarly works on the Scots-Irish in America, but I don't think any of them are going to have the lasting impact of this book. This is a popular history and a sociological study and a family history all rolled into one hard-hitting book that will change the way you think about our history, especially the parts of it dealing with the Old South and Appalachia. Maybe I've just been reading the wrong books up to this point, but there were a lot of things in the economic and social history of the southern states that made no sense to me at all, but when you look at those things in the context of the Scots-Irish and the exploitation of the South by the Radicals in Lincoln's party during Reconstruction as Webb describes them*, things begin to fall into place.

I am very excited about Born Fighting. It explains a lot about redneck culture, why it's so pervasive in the blue-collar towns and suburbs of America, and why the "elites" hate it and slag it with a passion usually reserved for the kind of folks who eat babies. This is more than just a restatement of Walter Russell Mead's thesis on Jacksonian democracy with special pleading for a particular ethnic group, this is the reason why the peculiar social synthesis of America is what it is. I am curious what Webb would make of the changes in Latino society brought on by evangelical Protestantism and whether he would see this as another manifestation of the Scots-Irish assimilation of ethnic groups with shared values into their culture.

One thing I do disagree with Mr. Webb about is his notion that the Scots-Irish will have to learn to act like another aggrieved ethnic minority to win the political game in 21st century America. The media and cultural domination of the elites' NY/DC/LA axis is ending, pushed by the Internet into a more diffuse and less centralized model in which new tribes are rising up to follow their own leaders instead of the "celebrities" foisted on us by an increasingly irrelevant Broadway, Washington and Hollywood. Which is exactly the kind of wild, anarchic culturescape the Scots-Irish like the best. ^^

*With a buttload of citations to back him up - the man was a Georgetown Law graduate, after all.
Tags: books, history
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