The secret decoder ring for Red and Blue states
Something that fascinates me is the surprising glimpses of Quaker influence in the wider world. Back in the Spring I drew out the possibility of a Quaker connection in President Barack Obama’s so-called “evolution” on LGBTQ matters.
This week the New York Times Opinionator blog argues a Quaker connection in the geography of “Red” and “Blue” states–those leaning Republican and Democratic in general elections. The second half of Steven Pinker’s “Why Are States So Red and Blue?” leans on David Hackett Fischer’s awesome 1989 book Albion’s Seed. Subtitled “Four British Folkways in America” it’s a kind of secret decoder ring for American culture and politics.
Fischer argued that there were four very different settlements in the English colonies in the Americas and that each put a definitive and lasting stamp on the populations that followed. I think he’s a bit over-deterministic but it’s still great fun and the thesis does explain a lot. For example, the Scot-Irish lived in lawless region along the English-Scottish border, where people had to defend themselves; when they crossed the ocean they quickly went inland and their cultural descendants like law and order, guns and a judgmental God. Quakers from the British midlands were another one of the four groups, cooperative and peace-loving, the natural precursors to Blue states.
Now step back a bit and you realize this is incredibly over-simplistic. Many Friends in the Delaware Valley and beyond have historically been Republican, and many continue as such (though they keep quiet among politically-liberal East Coast Friends). And the current Democratic president personally approves U.S. assassination lists.
You will be forgiven if you’ve clicked to Pinker’s blog post and can’t find Quakers. For some bizarre reason, he’s stripped religion from Fischer’s argument. Why? Political correctness? Simplicity of argument. Friends are summed up with the phrase “the North was largely settled by English farmers.” Strange.
But despite these caveats, Fischer is fascinating and Pinker’s extrapolation to today’s political map is well worth a read, even if our contribution to the distribution of the American map goes un-cited.