Dr Baber complains that I am always passing comments on those wacky Americans.1 Modestly veiled in her comments is a pointer to a really interesting essay about the different ways in which the two Americas think of government.
She thinks that it is these differing attitudes to government which explain, better than religion, the split between Red and Blue America. But I think there are religious aspects to her divide as well. The two styles of social organisation she describes correspond to the religious and social divide in Albion’s Seed.. The “red” or Republican model based on family and clan, which does not trust government to supply anything but protection against other, worse governments, clearly corresponds to the “Border” habits of the Scots and protestant Northern Irish who were so influential settling the South. The “blue”, Democratic, trust in public office reflects another religious Protestant tradition about government: that of the East Anglican puritans, Scandinavian Lutherans, Quakers, and other priggish people.
This might be taken to strengthen Harriet’s argument that the key differences are not religious. It certainly shows that they are not theological, since there is very little theological difference between Calvinism in Houston and Boston, yet a huge difference in how this is understood to demand society be modelled. But we already know that religion has very little to do with theology. I think the religious aspect of these divides suggests a further commonality.
The weak spot of her argument comes here “Traditional societies” operate according to the Red plan—neopatrimonialism or “Big Man government.” To make the system function personal bonds and communal loyalty have to be maintained. Members of traditional societies can’t afford to take social risks or tolerate non-conformity since any deviation from established traditions and conventions threatens the fabric of personal relationships on which the safety and well-being of all depend. Social stability rests on “personal morality” and the integrity of the family, and on willing cooperation. Religion supports “personal morality” and willing conformity to social conventions and traditions.
This is confusing two sorts of social bonding mechanism. Family ties, and personal bonds seem to me a substitute for conformity in social matters or opinions rather than a reinforcement. A society genuinely based on small-scale personal relationships can survive a great deal of dissent and be very tolerant ona micro scale. This is how liberal churches are meant to work.
The use of explicit standards of morality, and of shibboleths, are means of enforcing trust beyond the limits of family and friends. The tradition of conformity as a moral imperative is much more closely associated with Northern priggishness than Southern mafia-based morality. It takes very little effort to think of conformist requirements that liberals think essential to civilised society – the whole complex of attitudes and taboos suggested by “political correctness” will do. The sacral quality of the American Constitution surely arises from the fact that it has to bind together immigrants who must learn to build a state without traditional networks of clan and family.
1 My only defence is that I pass comments on those wacky everyones.