“There’s never been an America, but rather several Americas — each a distinct nation,” says Colin Woodward, author of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.
The battle lines of the most controversial issues of our day can be traced by to the early settlers, Woodward writes in Tufts Magazine. Immigrants didn’t change the fundamental nature of these 11 nations, he says, because they became “embedded within a cultural framework of deep-seated preferences and attitudes—each of which a person may like or hate, but has to deal with nonetheless.”
And the modern age of Penske truck rental and Atlas Van Lines didn’t shift the boundaries of the nations either. “Our continent’s famed mobility has been reinforcing, not dissolving, regional differences, as people increasingly sort themselves into like-minded communities,” Woodward says.
He notes that he’s not the first to recognize these kinds of nations within a nation. Kevin Phillips, a GOP strategist, predicted The Emerging Republican Majority in 1969.
It looks like Western Pa. falls into both The Midlands and Greater Appalachia. Woodward’s 11 nations, in brief, are:
- YANKEEDOM. Since the Puritans, more comfortable with government regulation and public-sector social projects. Has a utopian streak.
- NEW NETHERLAND. Established by the sophisticated, materialistic Dutch, it emerged as a center of publishing, trade, and finance, a magnet for immigrants.
- THE MIDLANDS. Let’s hear it for the Quakers! Ethnic and ideological purity are not priorities, government is seen as an unwelcome intrusion, and political opinion is moderate.
- TIDEWATER. English gentry meant to reproduce the semifeudal society of the countryside they’d left behind. Places a high value on respect for authority and tradition, and very little on equality or public participation in politics.
- GREATER APPALACHIA. Founded by wave upon wave of settlers from the war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, northern England, and the Scottish lowlands. Characterized by a warrior ethic and a commitment to personal sovereignty and individual liberty.
- DEEP SOUTH. Established by English slave lords from Barbados. Its caste systems smashed by outside intervention, it continues to fight against expanded federal powers.
- EL NORTE. Where Hispanic language, culture, and societal norms dominate. Norteños have a reputation for being exceptionally independent, self-sufficient, adaptable, and focused on work.
- THE LEFT COAST. (Sounds like a New Yorker cartoon.) Colonized by two groups: New Englanders (merchants, missionaries, and woodsmen who arrived by sea and dominated the towns) and Appalachian midwesterners (farmers, prospectors, and fur traders who generally arrived by wagon and controlled the countryside). A hybrid of Yankee utopianism and Appalachian self-expression and exploration.
- THE FAR WEST. Shaped more by environmental than ethnographic factors. Settlement largely directed by corporations or the federal government. Often resentful of both.
- NEW FRANCE. Occupying the New Orleans area and southeastern Canada. Its people emerged from imperial repression as down-to-earth, egalitarian, and consensus driven, among the most liberal on the continent; multiculturalism and negotiated consensus are favored.
- FIRST NATION. Native American groups that generally never gave up their land by treaty and have largely retained cultural practices. Its territory is huge—far larger than the continental United States—but its population is less than 300,000, most of whom live in Canada.
Read more about Woodward’s theory in Tufts Magazine.
h/t The Washington Post’s GovBeat blog