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Michael Hirsh's Assertions:

A commenter on the thread below suggested that someone ought to respond to "[Michael Hirsh's] claim on the merits." The trouble is that the claim is so vague and impressionistic that it's hard to see just what to say about it. Are Southern/Southwestern mores "savage [and] unsophisticated"? Are "Yankees" from the "Northeast and upper Midwest" generally "more diplomatic [and] communitarian"? Where exactly is one to find good definitions for those terms, much less figure out which region best exemplifies them?

Likewise, when Hirsh says that, "the realism and internationalism of the Eastern elitist tradition once kept the Southern-frontier warrior culture and Wilsonian messianism in check," he's presupposing that there's a boundary between "the Eastern elitist tradition" and the views of Wilson, who was President of Princeton and a professor at Bryn Mawr and Wesleyan (though admittedly he was born and studied and practiced law in the South), all Eastern elitist institutions. Where precisely is that boundary, which we'd need to identify to see whether Hirsh's statement is indeed accurate?

Similarly, what exactly counts as a "coarsened sensibility," or "the shallowest sort of faux jingoism"? Not exactly the sorts of terms that are precisely enough defined to be conducive to careful analysis. And what's "faux jingoism," incidentally? Is it something that pretends to be real jingoism, but actually isn't genuinely jingoistic enough to count?

There are, I suppose, some things that one might test about Hirsh's claim, for instance whether "Jesus Christ Superstar" is indeed likely to be seen as more "blasphemous" than it was when it debuted; there are probably surveys on the subject, and I'd be happy to hear what people have to say about this. Another example that at least uses terms crisp enough to evaluate, is whether the "United Nations ... [is] are critical to missions like nation-building in Afghanistan"; presumably people who are more knowledgeable than I am on the subject can discuss whether the UN really has a good track record with nation-building in combat zones.

And there are some logical lapses, such as the complaint about "Hillary Clinton pander[ing] shamelessly to Roman Catholics, who have allied with Southern Protestant evangelicals on questions of morality" -- aren't those Roman Catholics mostly in the supposedly good Northeastern and Upper Midwest states, and didn't they come by their views and attitudes through their own cultural patterns, and not through the supposedly malign influence of Southerners and Southwesterners? Similarly, consider "Barack Obama seems to be so leery of being identified as an urban Northern liberal that he's running away from the most obvious explanation of his association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and former Weatherman Bill Ayers: after Obama graduated from college he became an inner-city organizer in Chicago, and they were natural allies for someone in a situation like that." That may be a good factual explanation, but does it really respond to the concern of many people -- all over the country -- that liberals should find better allies than that, and should be faulted when they do indeed make such alliances?

But at bottom, the overall piece doesn't strike me as a "claim" that can be sensibly confronted "on the merits." It's a rant. You can buy it or not, and be entertained by it or not, but you can't really substantively confront its core arguments.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Michael Hirsh's Assertions:
  2. Diplomacy:
mgarbowski:
The claim re pandering to Catholics is even more ridiculous if you don't cut off the quote where you did. The entire sentence is "Clinton panders shamelessly to Roman Catholics, who have allied with Southern Protestant evangelicals on questions of morality, with anti-abortionism serving as the main bridge."
The idea that Clinton has pandered to Catholics on the abortion issue, is nonsensical. Her abortion record is abominable. Indeed, I will break my own rule and state that Mr. Hirsh is stupid, based on this alone. He treated me with no more respect.
4.27.2008 7:47pm
John (mail):
A variety of tribal imperatives drive Hirsh to defend the Society of Elite Snobs, of which he is a member. Knowledge is not one of them.

Eugene is right that almost nothing he says is verifiable, and, as such, it is just so much sophistry and illusion, to quote an actual intellectual of some note.
4.27.2008 7:47pm
Richard Rothwell (mail) (www):
Well, you spend all your time looking for a conspiracy from variosu fronts, when actually it is a cockspiracy. As we all know, most of what happens in the world is the result of a series of cock-ups. The problem is that it is difficult to predict the result of these sequencial errors.

The solution is to assume that it is a conspiracy - predict the results based on this. Then to remind yourself that this is a model of what is going on - not the truth.
4.27.2008 7:51pm
PersonFromPorlock:
The elephant in the living room of the lumpen intelligentsia is that many of them don't think very well - and fill up the gaps with buzz words. But they're very stylish.
4.27.2008 7:51pm
Richard Rothwell (mail) (www):
Well, you spend all your time looking for a conspiracy from various fronts, when actually it is a cockspiracy. As we all know, most of what happens in the world is the result of a series of cock-ups. The problem is that it is difficult to predict the result of these sequencial errors.

The solution is to assume that it is a conspiracy - predict the results based on this. Then to remind yourself that this is a model of what is going on - not the truth.
4.27.2008 7:52pm
frankcross (mail):
The article itself is quite a mess, but I think it contains a grain of verifiable truth. The South does have more of a "warrior" culture, just look at the patterns of those who volunteer for the military. And the South obviously has some patterns of different mores from other parts of the nation. Hirsh is terribly biased in evaluating these differences, but I think they are there.

I suspect the greater sophistication (in the arts at least) and communitarianism of the Northeast, which I suspect are also verifiable, may simply be due to the concentration of populations in big cities. Perhaps the age of those cities is also a factor.
4.27.2008 8:00pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

Well, you spend all your time looking for a conspiracy from variosu fronts, when actually it is a cockspiracy. As we all know, most of what happens in the world is the result of a series of cock-ups. The problem is that it is difficult to predict the result of these sequencial errors.

The solution is to assume that it is a conspiracy - predict the results based on this. Then to remind yourself that this is a model of what is going on - not the truth.


try paying for advertising.
4.27.2008 8:04pm
Ben P (mail):
I have to say, I don't think I'll ever be able to read the word "cockspiracy" and not laugh.
4.27.2008 8:17pm
notalawyer:
Well said, Professor. Hirsh's piece is a rant, and one can either rant back (not your style) or note that it's a rant and move on. Most of us ignorant Scotch-Irish warrior types are content to go on with our lives without craving the approval of northeastern elites.
4.27.2008 8:19pm
SteveMG (mail):
Was it really northeastern communitarians (using Hirsh's terms) that turned back or defeated Wilsonian globalism? I thought it was the Jacksonites. It appears he is trying to connect the neoconservatives of today - a modern pheonomenon - with the Wilsonianism of yesterday (author of the Fourteen Points? that famous redneck Walter Lippmann).

And from where did the speaker of the view that "we would pay any price and bear any burden in the cause of freedom" come from? Certainly not the South (author of those words? Walter Lippmann).

As EV argues, this is more of a rant - with some interesting arguments - than a fleshed out, full formed thesis.
4.27.2008 8:30pm
Teh Anonymous:
My initial reaction was "He's talking about sectionalism." Albeit in an elitist/counterproductive way. This was without actually reading the piece, because frankly, it seemed like everything of substance was quoted in the previous post.

Now, having read the piece, my reaction is that there may be a kernel of truth in there, but the execution is so poor it's hard to tell.
4.27.2008 8:34pm
PC:
Similarly, consider "Barack Obama seems to be so leery of being identified as an urban Northern liberal that he's running away from the most obvious explanation of his association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and former Weatherman Bill Ayers: after Obama graduated from college he became an inner-city organizer in Chicago, and they were natural allies for someone in a situation like that." That may be a good factual explanation, but does it really respond to the concern of many people -- all over the country -- that liberals should find better allies than that, and should be faulted when they do indeed make such alliances?


That's a good question. Should we judge people based on the alliances they make? Sure. So what about Pinochet, Pahlavi, Saddam Hussein, et al.?
4.27.2008 8:36pm
EricH (mail):
How does Senator Obama's promise to "repair the world" fit into Hirsh's views?

A bit messianic, no?
4.27.2008 8:39pm
TerrencePhilip:
I agree that it is a rant- characterized by such confused and sometimes self-contradictory thinking you wonder if the writer isn't really a self-centered college sophomore writing for his school paper, whose prose got stuck next to a picture of a middle-aged man by mistake.

I doubt Hirsh was voicing similar sentiments in 1993 or 1997. Often these pompous laments about the decline of American civilization are just code for "my kind of candidate hasn't won in a while."
4.27.2008 8:44pm
EricH (mail):
Hmm, are Rev. Jeremiah Wright and former Weatherman Bill Ayers "diplomatic" in their outlook of the world?

I'm having a hard time placing all these people in Hirsh's two categories.
4.27.2008 8:59pm
fishbane (mail):
I'm having a hard time placing all these people in Hirsh's two categories.

Here, here. John Hagee and and Charlie Black are obviously both much more loosely connected and much stronger moral leaders, and we should choose leaders strictly based on who talks to whom.
4.27.2008 9:21pm
Waldo (mail):
I agree that Hirsch's article is a rant, and it's also historically wrong.

The Yankee communitarianism he praised led to the Abolitionist movement. Which was essentially a Protestant relitious revival against a status quo tolerant of slavery. Which is rather similar to the religious revival against abortion in the 80s. The WCTU (Women's Christian Temperance Union, founded in Cleveland, OH ) followed the same tradition, fighting for both Equal Suffrage and Prohibition (btw- alcohol was still prohibited in parts of Maine in the 90s). Bottom line is that there hasn't been a consistent divide in US politics based on region.

Instead, politics has been about forming winning coalitions. When Democrats shifted to the left on social issues in the 1970s, they lost parts of the Roosevelt coalition. And then lost elections, first presidential, then congressional. Republicans had a winning coalition thanks to Reagan and Gingrich, then lost it when they went from seeking a winning coalition to seeking a MINIMUM winning coalition. It remains to be seen which party is able reassemble such a coalition.

Hirsch tries to impose current political conflicts on the politics of the past. Not only have the issues changed, but the interest groups, and their regional and cultural backgrounds, have changed as well. As EV noted, it's hard to evaluate a claim when there's just no there, there.
4.27.2008 9:22pm
Donna B. (mail) (www):
Hirsh selectively read Walter Russell Meade and David Fischer, then selectively stapled a few facts onto a disjointed rant.
4.27.2008 9:27pm
EricH (mail):
John Hagee and and Charlie Black are obviously both much more loosely connected and much stronger moral leaders, and we should choose leaders strictly based on who talks to whom.

If someone out there can make any sense of the above and explain how it is connected it in anyway to Hirsh's piece, I'd appreciate it.

'Cause from here, it's way over my head.
4.27.2008 9:29pm
PC:
If someone out there can make any sense of the above and explain how it is connected it in anyway to Hirsh's piece, I'd appreciate it.

'Cause from here, it's way over my head.


If Barack HUSSEIN Obama's "relationships" are in question, then John McKeating's connections are too?
4.27.2008 9:37pm
EricH (mail):
If Barack HUSSEIN Obama's "relationships" are in question, then John McKeating's connections are too?

And what in the heck does that have to do with Hirsh's history lesson and his division of America into southern reactionaries and northern sophisticates?

Somebody's posting not only on the wrong thread but on the wrong blog.
4.27.2008 9:43pm
Hoosier:
Was it really northeastern communitarians (using Hirsh's terms) that turned back or defeated Wilsonian globalism?

Not really. I think it was a Welshman, viz.:
http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page139.asp

In the US, Lodge led the fight against Wilsonianism, and he was as blue-blood Yankee as it gets. But the fiercest opposition to the League Covenant came from senators from Idaho, Indiana, California, and Wisconsin. Note something about those states.

Consider, too, the interwar epicenter of anti-Wilsonianism was the great city of Chicago (my native town), and specifically 435 N. Michigan, viz.:
http://www.aviewoncities.com/chicago/tribunetower.htm

Until this evening, I was always of the opinion that we Chicagoans/Hoosiers were considered by the coastal swells to be benighted specifically because of our unwillingness to engage in foreign crusades.

Now I'm even dumber than I was when I woke up.


Lucky I don't actually read 'Newspeak.'
4.27.2008 9:58pm
EricH (mail):
I was always of the opinion that we Chicagoans/Hoosiers were considered by the coastal swells to be benighted specifically because of our unwillingness to engage in foreign crusades.

Include me in your parade, please. I'll be in the back.

It's always been my thought that those who didn't believe in universal human rights and global justice/world courts were often viewed by the sophisticated as simplistic reactionaries and ultranationalist nativists.

Somebody's history is wrong here.
4.27.2008 10:05pm
Gringo (mail):
Sometime this century, perhaps around the 2004 election, I read either a letter to the editor or an opinion piece on the editorial page of the Boston Globe's hard copy version that made a parallel with Massachusetts and the South in the 1850s or around the time of the Civil War, and with Massachusetts and the South of the 21st century. Enlightened Massachusetts, the benighted South: we all know the drill. Enlightened Massachusetts once again had the duty to repulse the yahoos of the South, and once again save the country. The opinion piece may have referred to the incident where Congressman Brooks of South Carolina brutally caned Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts into unconsciousness. I am not sure.

As I read this opinion piece in a library of several million volumes located south of the Mason Dixon line, I thought to myself that the author showed more of his/her provincial attitudes towards the southern part of the US than any actual insight on any issue. Believe it or not, things DO change in 150 years. Anyone who had been exposed to the likes of John F Kerryman, Louise Day Hicks, Dapper O'Neil, or the many exemplars of the Kennedy clan, should have realized that enlightenment is not defined by geographical boundaries, not even by Route 128.

I recently searched for that opinion piece/ letter to the editor in the online version of the Globe, but was unable to locate it.
4.27.2008 10:40pm
elim:
is this why liberals/universities find excuses for Ayers/Dohrn? these folks reflected the nuanced morality of the eastern part of the United States and the folks they were attempting to kill were, at the core, just the lower class.
4.27.2008 10:43pm
elim:
by the way, does anyone think, by East, that the author actually means the portion of Manhattan that he lives in? that he has never voted for a Republican in his life? That, if asked, he couldn't name one person in his life who is not "pro-abortion"? that his kids, and those of all his friends, go to private schools? but, other than that, I'm sure he is open minded and not coarsened by the savage mores of Iowa.
4.27.2008 10:53pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Hirsh asserts:

"We routinely demonize organizations like the United Nations that we desperately need and which are critical to missions like nation-building in Afghanistan."

Why does the US "desperately" need the UN? The UN is clearly a failed and corrupt organization. It has not accomplished its stated mission of keeping the peace. It provides a non-stop forum for tin pot dictators to constantly lambaste the US and Israel all while demanding money.

How is the UN "critical" to nation building in Afghanistan? No one, not the US or the UN is going to successfully nation build there. The British tried and failed, the USSR tried and failed.

This guy is full of the bromides you hear on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. We could go through his assertions one by one and take them apart. It's not worth the time.
4.27.2008 11:02pm
FredR (mail):
As someone who has lived in the South my whole life (and who's seen a lot of changes) I get a good laugh out of articles like this. I take his rant as a compliment, altho I do confess problems keyboarding because of all those calluses on my hands caused by years of knuckle dragging.

Yes, as Jacksonians we'uns do prefer to smite our enemies rather than wring our hands and blame ourselves for any misfortune that befalls us.

Secession is by no means a Southern phenomenon. New England almost seceded in 1814 and refused to send troops to fight the war. Northern radicals like Thoreau and Emerson openly favored "disunion" in the 1850s because they thought New England too good be in the same country with all those horrible rednecks. Sound familiar?
4.27.2008 11:15pm
Bender (mail):
The article is full of inspiring quotes that Republican candidates can tuck into their fund-raising mail this fall. Even as I write this, impelled by Hirschman's vitriol, this bitter Catholic gun-owner is considering which jingoist Neanderthal's campaign can most effectively use my check. Bravo, Hirschman! Keep up the good work.
4.27.2008 11:21pm
Hoosier:
is this why liberals/universities find excuses for Ayers/Dohrn?

Yes.
4.27.2008 11:26pm
Bpbatista (mail):
How -- exactly -- would Hirsh explain Teddy Roosevelt? The elite of the elite from the Northeast yet as every bit a frontiersman as Andy Jackson.
4.27.2008 11:27pm
Hoosier:
Gringo: You pro'lly knowed this'un awready, but what stoopid state has th' oldest public university in the US of A?
4.27.2008 11:30pm
EricH (mail):
Well, if Obama is elected President we'll have legions of conservative historians or political scientists churning out works on how the liberal elites have captured America and is destroying it.

Sound and fury signifying lots of cable talk show appearances and op-eds for somebody.
4.27.2008 11:32pm
Hoosier:
Mencken proclaimed the South the "Sahara" of the fine arts. And managed to do so just as Faulkner, Wolfe, Williams, and the Fugitive poets were emerging from the (supposedly) dead land.

Oops.

Best to be careful with such generalizations after that.
4.27.2008 11:40pm
Hoosier:
Well, if Obama is elected President we'll have legions of conservative historians or political scientists

I've been in academia my entire adult life, Eric. Please let me reassure you: "Legions" of conservative academics will not be found doing anything. Ever.

(Odd that you typed "sound and fury" while I was making a point about Faulkner. Sure, Great minds think alike'. But how does one explain us?)
4.27.2008 11:43pm
joe (mail):
i just wanted to say that i saw how bad his whole reasoning was flawed when he said carley was voted off of american idol for singing a song that has become blasphemous when we all know she was lucky to have lasted as long as she did and the reason she got the boot was because she didn't have a large enough fan base of screaming young girls.

now back to our regulary scheduled programming of fightin' irish versus uptight yankee patricians...
4.28.2008 12:03am
Warmongering Lunatic:
So, let's see. Wilsonianism bad, nation-building through the successor of the League of Nations good.

Mmm-hmmm.
4.28.2008 12:14am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Hirsh writes:

Why? Because we have become an intolerant nation, and that's what gets you elected.
Yup. That's why homosexuality is still a criminal offense, and anyone proposing gay marriage would end up in a mental hospital.

That's why blacks attend segregated schools.

That's why Muslims were rounded up and expelled from America after 9/11, shortly after mobs burned down their mosques.

There is nothing quite so bizarre as watching the output of liberals, completely divorced from reality.
4.28.2008 12:19am
Dave D. (mail):
...Professor, ponder no more the ambiguous phrase 'Faux jingoism'. Faux is a northeast regionalism for Fox, a news outlet.
4.28.2008 12:22am
BGates:
Joe - since "fightin' Irish" has such a strong connection to Notre Dame, I had thought it referred to Irish Catholics as opposed to the Scots Irish. I'm more certain that Hirsh is as patrician as used chewing gum.

Fred - don't drag your knuckles when you walk, or you'll scuff the barrels of the guns you're clinging to.

Fishbane has a good point that if any living Republican has ever done anything wrong, all criticism of Democrats is forever illegitimate. (Yee-haw, I'm a-using hyperbole like my social betters! Engagin' in rhetorical excess is a durn saht funner'n pitchin' M-80s at muskrats behind the feed store!)
4.28.2008 12:28am
joe (mail):
i was just expressing my own hyperbole. since i was raised hating my scotch-irish brethren by my dear age old granma who seemed to remember the very day the o'neill's surrendered to the english, i thought, in their time of need, i would lay down my weapons and include those oppressive scots as part of "the irish."
and yes, he is no patrician, just as kennedys are no boston brahmin, but sure tries to dress up as one and i didn't want to hurt his feelings by calling him out on it.

it's my attempt at politeness that is so lacking in these here southern parts.
4.28.2008 12:42am
Gringo (mail):
Hoosier:
Gringo: You pro'lly knowed this'un awready, but what stoopid state has th' oldest public university in the US of A?
That state would be the "Mother of Prezadints", the state that contains The College of William and Mary, founded in 1693. As it has not been in continuous operation since then, perhaps other public universities feel they have the right to usurp that claim. Perhaps Indiana University.

Clayton E. Cramer: great comeback. Intolerance = not agreeing with a liberal. (I used to be a liberal, but got stupid and senile.)
4.28.2008 12:57am
David Rogers (mail) (www):
"Eastern elitist tradition"

Wilson was Governor of New Jersey. Are there other states to the East of Jersey?

Wilson was president of Princeton. I suppose there are a couple of universities which are more elitist. But not many. Maybe University of Virginia? Duke?

You're right. Hirsh is being completely unserious.
4.28.2008 1:26am
wuzzagrunt (mail):
Just so you unsophisticated savages understand,the "Northeast" Mr. Hirsh is referring to is an extremely small geographic area. The same savagery and lack of sophistication can be found in the outer boroughs of NYC and out in the suburbs (that cultural no-man's land between Manhattan and the Hamptons). This is where the people who are able to renovate Hirsh's bathroom, repair his air conditioner, arrest the skell who tries to mug him, and operate the equipment that makes his electricity, are likely to come from. It is also a place where most people are more impressed with a Lt. Michael P. Murphy than a Michael Hirsh.

Go upstate NY, and you can still find towns where the schools close for the opening day of deer season. OMG!
4.28.2008 2:40am
fullerene:
FWIW William &Mary does not to my knowledge claim to be the oldest public college in the U.S. nor does it claim to be the oldest public college in Virginia. It was private until the early 20th century when the state took it over. Which school truly qualifies as the oldest is a subject of some contention, none of which is worth the fight.

There is, however, a relevant story in here somewhere. Jefferson's original vision for the University was greatly tested by the indifference to scholarship and proclivity to violence shown by many of the students. I suppose in those days the Grounds were not a gun free zone. This may or may not explain why a professor was accidentally shot and killed in the 1840s during a dispute.
4.28.2008 3:34am
fullerene:
Because I did not make it clear, the University is the University of Virginia and not the College of William &Mary. Around here, the University is sufficiently clear, but I suppose not everyone shares the same humble view of the institution as us Virginians.
4.28.2008 3:36am
Ragnell (mail):
Take Up the Yankee Man's Burder
---Rudyard Hirsh

Rudyard Hirsh has espoused a twisted version of White Man's Burden. He argues that the northern grownups were once able to take the childlike southern savages by the hand, and lead them into the light of civilization. Please Mr. Kipling, focus on your own backyard.

You've lost your colonies sir


Expanded remarks are on the other thread for this this topic.
4.28.2008 6:47am
Ragnell (mail):
Take Up the Yankee Man's Burder
---Rudyard Hirsh

Rudyard Hirsh has espoused a twisted version of White Man's Burden. He argues that the northern grownups were once able to take the childlike southern savages by the hand, and lead them into the light of civilization. Please Mr. Kipling, focus on your own backyard.

You've lost your colonies sir


Expanded remarks are on the other thread for this this topic.
4.28.2008 6:47am
Elmer:
I have to disagree with Donna B. I can't imagine anyone reading David Fischer (Albion's Seed is what I'm reading) and coming away with a simplistic view of our cultural variations.
4.28.2008 10:55am
Hoosier:
The oldest public college is UNC.

But that's still the South, from what I hear.
4.28.2008 12:44pm
Dave D. (mail):
..." Take up the Yankee man's burder " - Ragnell

...My wifes a 'birder', but spells it differently. Great hobby .
4.28.2008 1:02pm
Donna B. (mail) (www):
Elmer,
I can't understand reading Albion's Seed and coming away with a simplistic view either, but that appears to me to be what Hirsh did. I'm on my second reading of Albion's Seed and Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence.
4.28.2008 1:59pm
MXE (mail):
And what's "faux jingoism," incidentally?

Perhaps this is the result of editing. He started with "faux patriotism" and then replaced just "patriotism" with "jingoism," when he probably ought to have replaced both words, since the result is obviously nonsensical.

Basically this column is just a version of the "Fuck the South" website that people kept linking to after the 2004 election. Except this version is unfunny.
4.28.2008 8:26pm