On Political Books

July/August 2012 Tempting but Insane

Should the South just be its own country?

By Colin Woodard

Maybe it’s because I spent the 1990s covering eastern Europe and the Balkans, but I feel far less assured that Thompson’s Second Confederacy would have a peaceful birth. We have most of the ingredients here for a nasty bloodbath: long-suppressed national grievances, religious extremists in positions of power, a militant culture (in Appalachia), an armed and poorly educated populace, a formal ethnically based caste system in place within living memory, and a history of conflict with the federation it would be leaving. Call me crazy to suggest things could spin out of control during the fractious effort to undo the federation, but remember that in 1990 alarmists in Sarajevo laughed at that concept too. My assessment of the human condition prevents me from endorsing or advocating a breakup of the United States, as convenient a solution as it might seem on paper. If anything, Thompson’s work heightens rather than allays these concerns.

Apparently I’m not alone in feeling this way. As the book barrels toward its conclusion, Thompson describes trying to get various figures to engage with his secession plan. James Carville, Paul Krugman, and Lindsey Graham wouldn’t return his repeated interview requests. Lind, a native Texan and author of Made in Texas, wrote back that he disapproved of the project. “The last thing we need at this moment is one group of Americans suggesting others belong in another country,” Lind’s e-mail read. “Even as a joke, it is not funny.” Even the three University of Georgia professors who agreed to chat with Thompson at a pub slipped away when, as he writes, they saw “the slushy, truth-serum effects of beer and political talk with a loudmouthed Yankee [sic] descending upon the evening.”

Many of our federation’s problems are indeed due to profound, historically based differences in the ideals, values, religious attitudes, and political behavior of its component regional cultures. Perhaps, decades or centuries down the line, we will break up, but it’s not something we should wish for. Things might turn out as Thompson imagines, but we might also find ourselves in a far darker scenario, wishing we were still with ’em after all.


If you are interested in purchasing this book, we have included a link for your convenience.


Colin Woodard is State and National Affairs Writer at the Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram and author of American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.

Comments

  • d brown on July 15, 2012 9:23 PM:

    i watched two of their conventions on C-SPAN. They really mean it. They say it will be peacefulness if possible. But they will have a return of real constitutional government by any means.

  • kirkaracha on July 23, 2012 11:48 PM:

    Regret to inform the title of this post has the wrong word ("Succession") when it should be "Secession."

  • Daniel Kim on July 24, 2012 4:57 PM:

    The last thing we need at this moment is one group of Americans suggesting others belong in another country,

    As usual, the Southerner (well, Texan) gets it entirely backward. It's the South that always talks about secession, not the North trying to push southerners out.

  • drinkof on July 25, 2012 10:36 AM:

    Thompson is clearly an idiot, as he excludes Texas, which is the home of much of the madness, has lots of people and was once a country. Why can't we afford to lose them? Take ol' Rick up on his suggestion, excise them, and the body politic will reset in a good way. Got to have a special 'inclusion zone' for Austin, and anything involving Willy Nelson, of course. I say that we give Willy 10,000 passports to distribute as he will, and otherwise let 'em go!

  • jheartney on July 25, 2012 11:25 AM:

    I just wonder about the disposition of nuclear weapons, and the question of who gets how much of the national debt.

    The notion of a shared armed forces is laughable on its face - what happens when a southern unit gets orders it doesn't like from a northern superior officer? And vice versa? And what about financial support? Will a seceded South really happily pay its fair share of the costs? Really? Those guys?

    But the real question is whether you want those maniacs to get their own nukes. If you possess any working brain cells, and thus don't want to be the target of a Confederate h-bomb, then how do you keep the southern military command from getting their part of the arsenal? That alone would be sufficient casus belli for Civil War 2.

    Then there's the question of the national debt. Doubtless the new South would try to get out of paying their part of it, despite the fact that it was southern or southern-backed politicians who created most of the liability. Assuming you could corral the bastards into assuming their share of it, why would holders of U.S. bonds be willing to accept the debts of this new entity of jackasses? Wouldn't the South need to buy out their bit, or make their own arrangements with bondholders? Good luck with that.

  • glendenb on July 25, 2012 11:43 AM:

    It's a fun mental exercise - turning the tables on the Southerners who seem to talk secession at the drop of a hat but otherwise prattle and preen about their deep patriotism, casting themselves as real Americans and real patriots.

    The usual response "Oh no anything but that" feeds the egos of Southerners. Saying, "God speed" calls their bluff. Secession talk is an integral part of Southern politics but it's empty rhetoric, a way of signalling to dyed in the wool Johny Rebs that you've got their back, that you agree those darn Yankees are getting above themselves again. Southern leaders know that without federal funds, their states become exactly what Thompson says, Mexico with a weaker currency and more corrupt government. They know that without Federal funds, their states turn into developping nations in about six months. Talk of secession is nothing more than bravado and chauvinism.

    FWIW, I agree that if the south were to go they wouldn't go peacefully. The tensions inside Southern states between urban and rurual areas, between white and black, between (semi) integrated urban enclaves and segregated rural areas would rapidly boil over into internecine violence. We're not that many years from public lynchings - they'd make a comeback. At some point in the face of a humanitarian disaster, I think we'd have to take them back (probably by force) and then we'd have an even bigger mess on our hands.

  • LauraNo on July 25, 2012 2:03 PM:

    I don't even care if it makes sense. Let's just do it. I am sick to death of the hate and resentment that they steep themselves in, when they are not doing their best to impoverish their neighbors. Let 'em go and let's see!

  • Matt on July 25, 2012 4:02 PM:

    White Mississippi liberal Democrat here. That makes me an endangered minority, but only because of the word "white." Without it, I'm in a very sizable minority. And therein lies the reason that most of these "hyuk hyuk fuck the South" jokes aren't really all that funny.

    There aren't words for the magnitude of the burden of sin that the South carries, and I'm not trying to excuse the sins it continues to commit. But realistically, and I feel the need to shout this,

    IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY, AND NON-SOUTHERN PROGRESSIVES HAVE IT IN THEIR POWER TO CHANGE THIS.

    Why don't Democrats sweep every statewide office in Mississippi, every single time? On paper, they ought to. They've got a rock-solid 40% base, and they get those votes every. Single. Time. The Massachusetts GOP would kill to have the same 40% showing up for them, and the Massachusetts GOP occasionally wins elections in a state that's far bluer than MS is red! The problem here is there's no swing vote. Whites who are demographically identical to swing-vote whites in other states reliably vote GOP.

    Is it because they're racist? Is it because they're stupid? Is it because they're neo-Confederates? Why don't we ever get a piece of this vote when we get tons of them from the same sorts of people in NY or PA or NM or VA?

    Short answer--because the state GOP never, ever, ever misses a chance to remind those would-be swing voters, who are far less socially conservative than you might assume (especially from reading books like this), that champagne-sipping libruls love to look down their noses at them. And they're not half-wrong! Exhibit #2,938: this book. There'll be another one tomorrow.

    I don't blame the GOP for plucking the low-hanging fruit. And I don't blame the MS Democratic party for their fecklessness (and boy are they feckless) because they haven't had so much as a sniff of outside help since the Freedom Riders. If you want to know why MS looks the way it did in 1960, blame Jim Crow and slavery and lynching parties. If you want to know why it looks now, the answer is in large part that it's more fun to indulge in caricature than it is to try to win elections.

  • drinkof on July 25, 2012 6:47 PM:

    Matt, you can't blame books, and in a nation of a zillion, there will always be snobs. BUT ... I do go along with you in a general sense. 2008 proved the value of fighting every election at every level, even ones you 'can't' win. There's a social value over time, and a strategic value by diffusing opponent's resources. You're on your own with that 'don't write snobbish books or columns' thing, but as far as Democratic solidarity, I'm with you.

  • DFH on July 25, 2012 8:30 PM:

    Matt, I sympathize but after thinking it over I can't help but conclude you're saying the South could flip to voting Democratic if people quit hurting your people's feelings.

    It won't happen but there are times when I wouldn't mind.

  • Gabe on July 26, 2012 2:11 PM:

    �it jilts workers, promotes poverty, sells out American interests to foreigners, wrecks the environment, [and] makes trans fat pushers like Paula Deen and Paul Prudhomme into national heroes.�

    I stopped calling myself a 'liberal' after being exposed to so many preachy over-reaches like this one. Paula Deen? It's Paula Deen's and the south's fault that some people overeat and don't exercise? Last I checked, there were just as many junk food places in the Boston airport as there were in the Atlanta airport and the Dallas airport. if anything's infected this country, it's this bullcrap which automatically subjects any fat public figure to collective wrath. And in the case of the whole fat thing, it's almost always females: Obama's surgeon general, for example. I bet if Mario Batali had diabetes, the media wouldn't bat an eyelash.

    -a "yankee" who's sick of this crap.

  • skeptonomist on July 27, 2012 6:00 PM:

    The bone of contention in 1860 was westward expansion as states were admitted as either slave or non-slave. Lincoln's pledge to prevent admission as slave states was the actual issue precipitating secession. If the Confederacy had been allowed to secede, there might have been a war anyway over western territory. Separation now would be stupid for economic reasons, but at least expansion could not be an issue.

  • Sergeant2 on July 28, 2012 11:07 AM:

    Thomson's idea is much to complicated, I believe I have a better idea. Just make Idaho, Utah and Montana "Whites Only" States, which they pretty much already are. Lets face it, the idea of living in a Whites Only State would be nirvana to Southern Whites. Instead of legions of Wagon Trains heading West, there would be convoys of U-Hauls, Pick-Up Trucks, John Deere Tractors & Combines and '78 Harley's all heading West where the N word is not a discouraging word, and not see a person of Color all day.

  • LauraNo on July 30, 2012 2:39 PM:

    +1 Sergeant2. This is an excellent idea. Get them to self-deport!

  • bigfoot9p6 on July 31, 2012 9:02 PM:

    Sergeant2: Would you settle for just Idaho? Montana is just generally an awesome state, and I would really miss skiing in Utah. They also have great national parks there.

  • virginian on August 03, 2012 4:02 PM:

    separate the south from the rest of US?
    please don't do that to blacks, hispanics and young women in the south.
    that would be too cruel.

    don't make fun of older, undereducated, poor white guys in the south.
    the south can change just like virginia did now. give them a decade or so to modernize. i'm still hopeful.

  • Jesse Fell on August 12, 2012 5:06 AM:

    There is no question that the states of the former confederacy are preventing us from making real progress against our problems -- the rising cost of health care, gun violence, underperforming schools, the unequal distribution of wealth, global warming, and unregulated immigration, to name just a few. And their influence on foreign policy has been disastrous -- our involvement in Vietnam, and in Afghanistan and Iraq, was owing largely to two presidents from Texas, for example.

    So, suppose we allow the confederate states to secede -- of kick them out for failure to rise to a certain level of sanity and political decency. Next we may see the Rocky Mountain states clamoring to get out, and Orange County wanting to secede from California. No end to this, probably.

    And let's not forget that Michelle Bachmann and Paul Ryan are from the north -- Canada, almost.

    But, suppose that our crazies go. We would still have to deal with them, and not necessarily on easier terms. As Lincoln asked, "Can enemies make treaties easier than friends can make laws?"

    Maybe better to stay together, even as the profoundly dysfunctional family that we are. Alas.

  • Aubrey Kelley on August 14, 2012 10:38 AM:

    As a Southerner who lives in Yankeeland, I love the idea of a seperate South. For one, it would not be the Confederacy, it would be the New South. A place that believes in religiuos freedom and hard work. Yankees would be free to wallow in their progressive socialism. The only concerns I have would be dividing the military, of course the nuclear stockpile would have to be split, along with the rest of the military. There would have to be a program to allow repatriation and allow people of differing viewpoint to move either North or South. Then there would be the question of the West. People in the far western states would be more comfortable in a New South, rather than an old North. You keep California, Washington,Oregon, Mew Mexico and Nevada. Alaska, Hawaii and Utah can also become independent countries. This New South would florish not being under the yoke of places like New York and the influnces of Hollywood. Every state has the right to vote to leave in my opinion.

  • Mack on August 14, 2012 7:08 PM:

    As a citizen of Texas I am surprised to learn that I rule the United States economy and am married to my sister. At this point I should perhaps complete the stereotype by howling "Whooooooo-EEEE!"

    One infers from the review that Mr. Thompson is rather like Bertie Wooster's Aunt Agatha, glaring disapprovingly through his pince-nez (as a man he of course doesn't employ a lorgnette for his profound near-sightedness, no matter how aunt-ly) at everyone who is not him.

  • de Tocqueville on August 19, 2012 3:51 PM:

    What a sorry bunch of bigots and racists that post here. No wonder this nation is in such a sad shape.

  • Steve on August 26, 2012 10:39 PM:

    It may be time to have a Soviet Union breakup.

    I'm all for declaring California the Bear Flag Republic, maybe merging with the Hippie Republic of Oregon and coastal Washington, and letting the rest of you bozos work it out for yourself.

    Yeee hah!

  • Another Anon on August 27, 2012 3:15 PM:

    Lawful non violent succession is not plausible since the military, who in any case would regard such person as "enemies domestic" and in any case respond if only to preserve its budget.

    You see no matter what the military budgets of New Dixie and The USA would be a lot smaller .

    Its also contagious, the US might split into 11 or mor countries.

    If it did happen however as for the nukes, split them. The Dominationists in the South have opinions some find abhorrent but aren't crazy people (mostly) . They aren't going to nuke anyone especially former neighbors. Same can be said for the crazy progressives.

    Anyway its self correcting, likely the suddenly economically smaller, tax-phobic South would not be able to afford them for long.

    The debt? both sides default. That debt was owed by an entirely separate nation that no longer exists. There is no USA as it was.

    The big issues is water rights and internal race politics Those has much potential for bloodshed and is very difficult to negotiate. They effect both sides too, the South may have Black/White as a major issue but race relations aren't better in the North and are even more diverse. The economic impact is not going to be pleasant for anyone even the North.

    I suspect much ethnic strife. much of it violent. Ironically the South is far better prepared to pull the the trigger.

    So yeah, its probably a very bad idea.

  • James K. on October 24, 2012 8:36 AM:

    What a bunch of racists that post here. Very sad to read all of your writings... James

  • Mr. Anon on October 25, 2012 4:26 PM:

    I think the folks who are talking about splitting the military and particularly the nukes are missing something. The New South, or whatever this new entity might call itself would no longer be in the United States. The first step for the U.S. in severing ties with certain states, would be to secure the nukes. And the military. This could be done either by pulling those resources out, or annexing the land like we do in countries all around the world. But let's be clear, though significantly more streamlined, the U.S.A would continue as is. The New Entity would be left to fend for itself.

    The second step for the U.S. would be to establish a presence in areas of "strategic national interest." This at the very least would mean that a military presence would support some corporate backed puppet government in important port cities like Galveston, Houston, and New Orleans. The natural resources of oil and access to the strategic waterways, etc. would remain in our control. Why? Because we are the U.S. and that's what we do.

    The new entity would be left with lots of land. It would also find itself suddenly without the financial support of the U.S. federal government, which, almost to a state, gives more to the southern states that it brings in from them in taxes. The exceptions are Florida (which takes only 97 cents per dollar paid in federal taxes) and Texas (94cents on the dollar). This would be a huge boon to the industrial north and pacific coastal states, as all of them pay much more in taxes than they receive so that the federal government can subsidize states like Mississippi (takes $2.03 for every dollar paid in), Louisiana ($1.78 per dollar), Alabama ($1.66) and the list goes on through ALL of the other southern (source: tax foundation.org)

    The new south would likely be a ripe target for a "windfall" of new jobs, as corporations would flock to hire its citizens under the ensuing wave of deregulation and union abolishment that would begin immediately upon ratifying it's new government (this assumes that they would elect and empower the same types of people they traditionally send to United States congress).

    The resulting lowered wages and lack of incoming federally mandated welfare from the United States would get them off to a terrible start. Subsequent cuts and changes to the education system would necessarily come right away, thus taking the legs from underneath their next generation before they can even get started. The road to becoming another third world neighbor under the boot of the United States would be a very short one.

    On the other hand, in the Northern and Pacific Coast states, we'd get to keep more of our money or at least get to spend more of it on ourselves. And far more importantly the people we elect to national office would actually get to govern without first needing to clear everything with the Tea Party. So you know... a booming economy driven by development of alternative energy sources, retooling our infrastructure for the 21st century, a fact-based education system, and healthcare for all.

    Hey you know what? This sounds really good. When can we get this ball rolling?

    Come to think of it, instead of waiting for the south to secede again, maybe we should institute more of a meritocracy for membership in the Union. Let's put all fifty states up for review every few years. And if some aren't pulling their weight, let's just move the nukes, military, or anything potentially dangerous off their land and cut 'em loose. Looking at you South Carolina.

  • Guy with a clue on November 17, 2012 6:03 PM:

    I live in NYC and I hope this happens so I can move to the new country that's formed and leave you liberal losers behind.

    "The new entity would be left with lots of land. It would also find itself suddenly without the financial support of the U.S. federal government, which, almost to a state, gives more to the southern states that it brings in from them in taxes."

    Bwwaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaahhhhhhhhhaaaaaa.

    Hey, dude, the new entity would issue its own currency, backed by energy resources it could exploit without the EPA lording it over those resources as in the status quo.

    The new "entity" would probably end up looking a lot like Kuwait, in terms of the energy riches it could bring to market relative to its population.

    Which, when you peel away the author of this piece's concern trolling, is the REAL reason the split will never happen.

    "The first step for the U.S. in severing ties with certain states, would be to secure the nukes. And the military. This could be done either by pulling those resources out, or annexing the land like we do in countries all around the world. "

    Bwwwwwwwwwwwaaaaahhhhhhhhhhaaaaahhhhhhhhhha again.

    Yeah, dude, you might want to check out the demographic composition of the military. Not a lotta Yankees in there, are there? You're basically saying that a bunch of Southern boys are going to put the hammer to their kin so that people like Barack Obama and the readers of this rag can "secure the nukes"?

    Bwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Classic.

    I only wish that you people were as intelligent as you think you are, so that tripe like this would never see the light of day.

  • DG on December 06, 2012 4:04 PM:

    It seems as if few commenters have read the book. I did. I found it rude and funny and thought-provoking. The author of the book decided (oops, spoiler alert...) that it probably wasn't likely to happen that any states would secede and probably wouldn't work if it did. Then the 2012 election happened and people got so upset that they started talking secession. Again. But it remains fairly apparent that no state would have a majority of people voting in favor of secession from the US -- and even if they did, it's unlikely that the rest of the US would vote to let them (which seems to be the only possible legal way any state could secede: bilateral agreement). It's also fairly certain that the GOP would rigorously oppose the loss of any of their base states. A shame, since I'm inclined to let 'em go if they want. I'm tired of arguing with the reality-challenged. But it looks like we are stuck with each other.

  • NMendez on December 21, 2012 11:30 AM:

    As a northerner, I'm all for the idea--as long as, as one poster indicated, they include Texas in the south. We'll make a great export market for their oil until it runs out, at which point maybe they'll slide into being a Third World country. Their policies that encourage income inequality means that we'll be able to stop outsourcing to China and just locate those factories in the South. I'm assuming they'll probably eliminate the minimum wage, making that even easier for us. We can continue to enjoy our higher standard of living (greater per capita income, less obesity, lower rates of divorce & out of wedlock marriage, etc.) but without all the B.S. we have to put up with from them. Let's do it!

  • GVille on December 30, 2012 12:08 AM:

    Um. . . Excuse me, but most of you fail to realize that YOU are the ones being judgmental, arrogant, and even just a tad racist. I, being a southerner who has lived \in the south my whole life, have only ever met one true raciest below the age of 60. He wasn't even white. He was Asian. Obviously, there are racists, but they are a minority. Racism is frowned upon by the vast majority. Sorry to say, but your stereotype of the racist, white bible-thumper is just that, a stereotype. None of the evangelical Christians I have ever met have been crazy, evil people (with the exception of crazy old ladies who are crazy because they are old, not because they are Christian). The old, racist south of the 1960's is literally dying out. It makes my blood boil that arrogant dipwads who have probably never set foot in Georgia are so quick to condemn people they have never met.

  • Barbara on January 02, 2013 3:25 PM:

    As a person born in the North and living in the South, may I suggest that the South would not have nearly the disproportionate negative influence it does if it weren't being followed more or less in lockstep by many farm and mountain states, such as Idaho, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Kansas, Nebraska, Utah and Oklahoma?

    Why do they always get a free pass? Because they get farm subsidies instead of defense contracts and military bases? Because 150 years ago those of them that had already joined the Union didn't have slaves and so didn't secede?

  • Hippy Southern Bro on January 10, 2013 12:14 PM:

    Listen bros, you guys have this all bassackwards. The South is becoming more like "yankeedom," not the other way around. Politically speaking, we've had two elections now without a single Southerner on either ticket. Virginia and North Carolina are now swing states; Maryland just approved gay marriage. And yes there are crazies, but there's a little thing called demographics, and "progress of the hearse" that will do us all a solid in the decades to come. Do y'all see that post-election article seriously asking if, due to the rising Latino population, Texas would become a blue state?! Texas?! Blue State?! In short, the South is undergoing the same trends as the rest of the country: a inevitable move towards a more multi-cultural, tolerant, Chipotle-infested, Modern Family-watching, Keep [insert your hometown] Weird society. It just has more catching up to do.

    As an aside, you guys do realize that Mississippi is 1/3 black right? They're Southerners too. They count.

    This whole book/discussion seems like a relic from the George Bush years when evangelicals actually had power.

  • Ginger on February 14, 2013 1:30 PM:

    I don't know where the nice lady from Georgia lives, but I have a whole passel of relatives in MS under the age of 60 that are racist. None of my cousin's children went to school with anyone that wasn't also white, until they went to college, if they went to college. And their children don't attend school with anyone of color, either.
    Racism in MS isn't frowned upon, it's encouraged and nurtured.