Longtime national affairs writer Woodard (American Nation: A History of Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, 2011, etc.) builds on his previous analysis of the country’s regional differences to focus on the conflict between individualism and collectivism that defines our national character.
As in his previous book, the author, currently the state and national affairs writer at the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, maintains, “our country has never been united, either in purpose, principles, or political behavior. We’ve never been a nation-state in the European sense, but rather a federation of nations” like the European Union. Each region has distinct characteristics: Yankeedom, for example, which spread outward from its Puritan origins in Massachusetts, holds that “collective institutions” ensuring the common good take precedence over individual freedom. Conversely, Tidewater (Virginia, Maryland, southern Delaware, and northeastern North Carolina) historically has been “a country gentleman’s paradise…fundamentally conservative, with a high value placed on respect for authority and tradition, and very little on equality or public participation in politics.” Other regions include Greater Appalachia, Deep South, Midlands, Left Coast, and Far West, each championing individualism or collectivism based on its history. After the historical overview, the author posits some recommendations for present-day political parties. Although we have inherited a legacy of revolution against a king, making us “vigilant against the rise of an overarching government that might deny us our individual potential,” Woodard sees that the vast majority of Americans believe that the “American Way” means “pursuing happiness through a free and fair competition between individuals.” Politicians must reassure voters that fairness is “the central issue of our political discourse” by proposing tax reforms and investments in education that “would help keep the playing field even.” Woodard thinks Democrats are more likely than Republicans to embrace such proposals and therefore to “capture a reliable majority” in the majority of the disparate regions.
Thoughtful political theory for divisive times.