What social relationships existed between the popular mobility and the political elites in the revolutionary American colonies?

What social relationships existed between the popular mobility and the political elites in the revolutionary American colonies?

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What social relationships existed between the popular mobility and the political elites in the revolutionary and potentially revolutionary British American colonies?

For those unfamiliar with 18th century social jargon, the mobility was what we know as "the mob," it was a new urban phenomena occurring in public spaces. It involved concerted drunken commoners engaging in politics of heckling, abuse, petty violence, execution spectating, public speaking, violent attacking of public voting. London returned radical commons members less due to voters visibly and publicly casting ballots, than to the mobility's intimidation of those few with a franchise to vote in the mobs interests. The mobility was popular: it was "the people," in the sense of the sans culottes and enrages and Roux and the Nore mutiny and the Boston mob. It preceded Peterloo, the charter, Jacksonian demos-cracy and "the working class" as a concept. In the United States it is most commonly (haha) associated with Boston and New York, where not only mob violence but the percolation of ideas in public space movement was of significance: business was conducted in the eyes of the public, before the people in the street. "The mobility" is a combination of riot, bazaar, street life, coffee shop, the stoop and if protesting actually mattered (because at the time it was generally illegal).

Please consider revolutionary, loyalist and indifferently aligned British Americans particularly. If particular schisms or qualifications of the elites or popular mobilities dictated their conducts this would be essential to the answer, geography, race, religion and generation of settlement seem potential? Were Whig and Tory mentalities of significance within the mobs?

I am less interested in the rural yeomanry, however so populist; as I am more interested in the general mobility of close settlement and towns or cities.

I am interested in both interpersonal interactions such as subordination and deference; as well as mass phenomena.

The most obvious cross-class social relationships of the late 18th century American Colonies were religion and Free Masonry.

The numerous small Protestant sects throughout the colonies, especially in New England, tended to ensure that the congregations were cross-class. In an age of small towns, little official planning, and many distinct churches, it was inevitable that congregations would be mostly multi-class.

Less well known is the strong thread of Free Masonry throughout the Revolution, with many of the Founding Fathers and original Congress Representatives being Masons. Although Paul Revere and William Dawes both set on a midnight ride out to raise the countryside, it is known today as Revere's ride because, through his extensive personal connections, many of them Masonic, he was much more efficient than Dawes at raising the alarm.


The term culture is hard to define, and the difference (if any exists) between popular culture and elite culture is often controversial. Terms such as elite culture (or simply culture) have often been used to designate literature, the fine arts, and the performing arts, in contrast to a less refined and less educated mass (or popular) culture. The academic fields of social history and cultural history have greatly revised the perception of popular culture since the 1970s by exploring topics as diverse as material culture and department stores, nationalist culture and war monuments, folk culture and the charivari (rough music), or urban culture and the rise of spectator sports. This entry considers the above topics to be popular culture in contrast to traditional high culture (such as literature or opera) and it will discuss the relationship between popular and elite culture.

1 Religious Influence

The northern colonies were, in most cases, founded by British religious minorities such as the Puritans and Protestants. The southern colonies were predominantly Anglican. Politically this had a strong influence on the development of the South. As members of England's official religion, this tied the South much more firmly to the political traditions of England and the social and cultural traditions of Europe. This included many of the the traditions of feudalism and a class-based society that felt entitled to their privileges and lifestyle.

What social relationships existed between the popular mobility and the political elites in the revolutionary American colonies? - History

The Latin American Wars of Independence are presented as political movements that dismantled European powers and created independent countries within Latin America. However, the process of independence was not based exclusively on politics. The independence movements were predominantly influenced by individual movements with social and economic agendas. Although the movements were fragmented, they were all contextually based on the Bourbon Reforms, the Enlightenment, and Napoleon's occupation of Spain. Therefore, the wars of Independence in Latin America were not caused solely by politics, as most history books would lead us to believe, but the wars were instead caused for social reasons. The Bourbon Reform, the Enlightenment and Napoleon’s invasion of Spain had an influence on each distinct social class in Latin America however, each social class adopted aspects to best suit their own needs. As each group solicited social change, a revolutionary atmosphere began to develop and the movement for independence soon began. The racial and classist tensions instilled by the marginalization and oppression of mix-raced, non-elites through the institution of slavery and an embedded social hierarchy is what predominantly fueled the process of independence. This notion is important to understand because such understanding leads to greater appreciation for the complexity of the colonial relationship.

During the Bourbon Reforms, Spain implemented numerous economic alterations that provoked anti-colonial sentiments among the people of Latin America. Specifically, these reforms would increase agricultural production, better the military protection of the empire, diminish contraband, and promote additional production and collection of tax revenue (Lecture Notes 11/22/11). Contrary to the monopolistic market of the old regime, the Bourbon Reforms would introduce the Free Trade Act of 1778, creating an open market and a sense of economic liberalism. The reforms pertaining to colonial trade would benefit the creole elites, further augmenting their wealth. With agricultural production amplified and trade being liberated, there was an inevitable need to expand production. This expansion was done in the manner of encroachment, where haciendas would extend their boundaries into the peasants’ land, ultimately robbing them of their property and recruiting them as workers. In this dramatic turn of events, the peasants would not be fairly compensated, working for low wages leading to abominable living conditions for the laboring classes. As the Bourbon Reforms sought economic development, they also acknowledged Spanish-born individuals by reserving the highest ranking positions for them. In the high bureaucratic posts of the colonies, Spanish-born seats outnumbered those of the American-born, clearly indicating a strong preference for Spaniards. This phenomenon also occurred within the military as Spaniards were promoted, becoming the leaders of the military. Favoritism of Spanish-born individuals and the poor living conditions of the laboring class were two outcomes that resulted from the Bourbon Reforms. Although the reforms were meant to improve the economic state of the colonies, the aforementioned consequences essentially contributed to the spirit of rebellion and the wars of Latin American independence.

In the 18th century, the Enlightenment emerged as an intellectual movement with ideology that supported “reason, science, practicality, the social contract, and freedom.” The movement spread throughout Europe and the Spanish intended to harness the movement as an attempt to recover from the economic blight in Latin America. As the ideology became more accessible it eventually reached Latin America. The fundamental ideas of the Enlightenment that spread throughout the region were: economic liberty, racial and class equality, and popular sovereignty. (Lecture 11/22/11) Due to this ideology, people throughout Latin America began to question their sovereign authority as it became clear that Spain supported The Enlightenment for their own benefit while ignoring the idea of universal equality. Furthermore, the French Revolution and the United States Revolution were both influenced by The Enlightenment and inevitably influenced the movements in Latin America.

Napoleon's Occupation of Spain

Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France from 1804 to 1815, instilled the Napoleonic Code at the beginning of his reign. The civil code had a prominent influence on his role in the Napoleonic Wars in which he disseminated the imperatives of the French Revolution throughout most of continental Europe. The wars were a success for Napoleon and allowed him to establish an imperial monarchy. In 1808, France turned against Spain in the fight for control of the Iberian Peninsula. This conflict is known as the Peninsular War and marks the significant emergence of Spanish juntas established to dismantle Bonaparte's empirical reign. Similar juntas were developing in Latin America as a way to avert the control of the French. Government official working under the Spanish Crown began to question the authority of the newly instated leaders, thus causing friction among the criollo elites of Latin America. The other castas, however, supported the new Crown since it's enlightenment ideals presumably favored social mobility. These tensions were furthered by the Cádiz Constitution of 1812 .

Tensions between las Castas and las Razas

The Bourbon Reforms, the Enlightenment and Napoleon's occupation all had clear implications on racial tensions within Latin America. The most visible area in which social tensions manifested themselves was in relation to people of mixed blood. The Spanish created an entire hierarchical system to categorize these people based upon how closely linked a person's ancestry was to Spain. Different groups Peninsulares (those born in Spain), Criollos (of Spanish descent, but born in the New World), Indio (native to the Americas), and Esclavos (of African origins). From these four basic groups, a complex and convoluted social hierarchy was formed. Every conceivable mixture of these four groups had it's own unique label: Mestizos, Castizos, Coyotes, Mulattos, Pardos, and Zambos are just a few examples of the different groups in colonial Spanish society. These groups were arranged in terms of how close to "pure" white Spanish blood the person's ancestry was the "whiter" the better.

As a result of this oppressive categorization, people of mixed races were not allowed to enjoy the same benefits as those higher on the social pyramid. Obviously this created tension between the whites and their counterparts of "impure" blood. In an effort to assuage the resentment, a provision was passed in 1794 allowing the sale of whiteness. What this document meant was that if a family of mixed race had enough money, they could purchase a certificate that granted them the legal status of a white person, thus opening new opportunities like a university education and government offices. It was no longer the case that only whites enjoyed social opportunity, a revelation that angered many elites and further fueled the social tensions of the time. The following sources more specifically illustrate the repercussions of the rigidly entrenched social hierarchy.

A Protest to the King details the reasons the colonial elites had for denying privileges to the people of mixed race heritage. The elites became fearful of the other caste's trending upward mobility and their ability to access privileges that were once only attainable by the elites. The elites had become accustomed to controlling the social hierarchy within the colonies and refused to carry out the orders of the King that might have altered their position in society. This is a major factor as to why the creole elites began to dissent from the crown and ignite a revolutionary sentiment.

In Aspects of the Civil State of the Castas of Venezuela , José de Cevallos recommends that people from non-elite castas should be given more social and civil liberties. He appealed directly to the King by stating that the majority of the population was not of the creole elite and that in order to win the war the Spanish would need the support of the other castas.

In Open Letter to America , Juan Pablo Viscardo address the grievances of injustice faced by the mixed raced population on behalf of the elite ruling class and the Spanish Crown. He was greatly influenced by the French Revolution and recognized the need for the inhabitants of the new world to embrace liberty and equality by creating their own patria. He recognized the need for the people to unite in order to end the region's dependence on Spain.

The Purchase of Whiteness describes the effort made by Pedro de Ayarza in which he attempted to change his racial status from pardo to white. He established himself in the community, had elite connections and saw himself as a wealthy and influential man. In this regard, he saw himself as an elite despite his race. However, the Spanish made the ultimate decision in these race-based cases. The fact that the Spanish could decide who was white and who was not white proves that the Spanish were impractical in their judgement. This unfair judgement and race-based classifications caused many non-elites to question the injustices of their social status, thus becoming a factor in the wars of independence.

Spanish American Independence discusses the presence of a social hierarchy within the colonies. This hierarchy deprived the non-elites of privileges and benefits that were innately available to the creole elites. The government clearly favored whites and developed a system in which the white had all the power while neglecting and even maltreating individuals of mixed races. Once this was recognized as a direct result of the hierarchical system, many non-elites were provoked by a sentiment of revolution and became motivated to declare independence from the tyranny of the colonial government under the Spanish Empire.

Furthermore, although Latin American independence movements did not emerge until the start of the 19th century, the motivating factor of racial tensions can be traced back to the 1600s when fugitive slaves, such as Zumbi de Palmares , would challenge the oppressive colonial society by a series of slave uprisings and the formation of fugitive slave settlements. Furthermore, the 1600s was also the century in which Ana Juana de Cochabamba knew of her status and used her personal network in order to gain social mobility.

The Enlightenment greatly influenced The Haitian Revolution in regard to the ideas of liberty and equality. Former slave, Toussaint Louverture, led Haiti to victory, and soon after winning its independence in 1804, Haitian officials created a system of government that supported enlightenment ideology by abolishing slavery and declaring that every Haitian was equal. Due to its enlightenment ideology, the Haitian Revolution greatly influenced the marginalized populations in Latin America that were already on the verge of mobilization for independence. Among the elites, however, the revolution caused concern of an uprising. The elites knew that they were greatly outnumbered and were fearful of the idea of a revolution that might disrupt the social structure of their society.

Venezuela's Independence

The process of independence in Venezuela began when the creole elites renounced their support for Spain due to the liberal ideology presented during the time of France’s occupation. The liberal agenda supported universal equality and was greatly detested by the elites.However, at the same time the elites were also fearful of a Haitian Revolution-like take over by the castas. Caught between malcontent with the Crown's policies and this fear of rebellion, Venezuela contented itself with establishing a government and junta separate from Spain, but still loyal to Fernando VII. It wasn't until 1811 after much prompting and urging by revolutionaries like Simon Bolívar and Francisco de Miranda that Venezuela formally declared its independence from Spain. Bolívar's desire to create an independent state was so well recieved because he promised to grant rights and liberties to the castas, something the loyalist José de Cevallos had urged the King of Spain to do years earlier in his Aspects of the Civil State of the Castas of Venezuela.

Mexico's Independence

In Mexico, José María Morelos and Father Miguel Hidalgo emerged as prominent figures of independence and have earned eternal fame as the first leaders to envision and fight for an independent Mexican nation. Although they were both religious officials, they had a radical vision that was not common among other priests. Stemming from moral and social concerns, both men fought to overthrow the Spanish colonial government while discouraging racial prejudices, embracing the poor and lower classes and supporting the abolishment of slavery and the tributary system. Morelos's platform was based in Enlightenment ideology and harnessed the support of the non-elites. He also attempted, though unsuccessfully, to appeal to the elites, whose unreceptiveness in turn fueled a more forceful push for political, social and agrarian reforms from the non-elites. In the end, both men helped establish the stage for a revolution that would create and independent and representative government in Mexico.

When all things are considered it becomes readily apparent that the issue of Latin American Independence is far from simple. The typical textbook explanation of political aims as the sole causes for revolution is clearly inadequate. To say politics were the main motivating factor in Latin American Independence movements is to ignore the critical influence of social tensions and uncertainties. Really, the people of colonial Spain were primarily interested in gaining or preserving a better position in the social hierarchy for themselves and their families. The creole elites were concerned that if the castas were given equal rights, society would collapse and their lives would no longer be privileges. The castas, on the other hand were convinced that they deserved equal rights, thanks in part to the principles of the Enlightenment and the French, Haitian, and American Revolutions. These conflicting social viewpoints created tension among the different classes, tension that ultimately led to wars for independence. Though each country in Latin America had its own unique path to independence, it’s important to see the general trends of social discord that ring true for the region as a whole. It is in this macroscopic view of Latin American Independence that the importance of the individual is easily discernible. Independence wasn’t achieved by a few powerful men like Simone Bolívar or Miguel Hidalgo. It was achieved through the actions of the common man, through individuals deciding they wanted change. This optimistic sentiment is what is truly important to take away from the Independence movements the power of the people is unrivaled.

The Mexican Revolution: An Economic and Social Revival

The cropped portion features the images of Emiliano Zapata (left with sombrero), Felipe Carrillo Puerto (center), and José Guadalupe Rodríquez (right with sombrero) behind banner featuring the Zapatista slogan, Tierra y Libertad (Land and Liberty).


“Join me. I rose up. I rose up in arms and I bring my countrymen. We no longer wish that our Father Diaz watch over us. We want a much better president. Rise up with us because we don’t like what the rich men pay us. It is not enough for us to eat and dress ourselves. I also want everyone to have his piece of land so that he can plant and harvest corn, beans, and other crops. What do you say? Are you going to join us?”[1]

-Emiliano Zapata

The Mexican Revolution is defined in contemporary terms as a “genuinely national revolution”[2] because it impacted every possible aspect of Mexican culture and government. The Revolution began as a political crisis because for more than thirty years President Porfirio Diaz relentlessly imposed his tyrannical policies on the citizens of Mexico. He allowed the majority of Mexico’s lands to be owned by a small elite class, thus leaving the Mexican peasantry impoverished and oppressed. The idea of an armed rebellion against Diaz was first proposed by Francisco Madero, but was later largely carried out by other revolutionary leaders, such as Francisco “Pancho” Villa and Emiliano Zapata. These leaders sought an abolishment of the Diaz dictatorship, but they also advocated for massive land reforms that would equalize ownership of Mexico’s lands. This was significant to the overall foundation of the Revolution because it was based on the fight for land reforms. Thus, the Revolution developed into an era of “experimentation and reform in social organization.”[3] This essay will analyze the implementation, execution and success of agrarian reform movements in revolutionary Mexico. Overall, these reforms allowed for a more equal distribution of Mexico’s wealth. More specifically, land reform movements provided an allocation of lands back to ordinary Mexicans, which provided them means to make a comfortable living. However, the goals and outcomes of the Revolution came at a catastrophic cost. The Revolution claimed the lives of one-and-a-half million Mexican citizens. It also caused the abrupt fleeing of another one million people to the United States.[4]

Perhaps the reason why the Mexican Revolution is so widely studied today is because it is argued to be “the most important sociopolitical event in Mexico and one of the greatest upheavals of the 20th century.”[5] One of the most prominent historians who has dedicated his career to studying the Mexican Revolution is Alan Knight. In his books The Mexican Revolution, Volume 1: Porfirians, Liberals, and Peasants and The Mexican Revolution, Volume 2: Counter-Revolution and Reconstruction, Knight follows the course of events during the Revolution that highlighted the distinct phases and transitions of power that took place. His analysis of the agrarian reform movements are emphasized throughout the series to show that they were indeed the basis of the entire Revolution. He methodically combs through the political, economic, and social spheres of Mexico to portray how land reforms affected various factions. He argues that revolutionary leaders, such as Francisco Madero and Emiliano Zapata, were largely supported because of their ideologies pertaining to land reform. Also the extent to which these leaders acted upon their ideologies affected the political stability of Mexico because power struggles ensued between these revolutionary leaders as well as between the people who supported them. In regards to the social dynamic of Mexico, Knight argues that land reform movements defined the socio-political experiences of all people in Mexico during the Revolution.[6] Moreover, he uses the implementation of the land reform movements to prove that they contributed to the betterment of the Mexican people because they were no longer suppressed by the elite land owners. Knight focuses on analyzing the policy decisions and their outcomes that led to the distribution of lands allowed for better economic opportunities for ordinary people. Thus, Knight concludes that the reconstruction of Mexico revolved around upholding land reform policies because it was proven to improve peoples’ lives.

Being that the economic and social constraints of the Mexican Revolution represent such large areas of study, many other prominent historians have furthered Knight’s arguments. Stuart Easterling also discusses land reform movements during the Mexican Revolution. His argument picks up where Knight’s left off because he analyzes the economic stipulations of land reform policies that occurred during and even after the Revolution. However, he uses the agrarian reform movements as a framework for the onset of militant involvement and political protests that were called for by well-known Revolutionary leaders, but ultimately carried out by ordinary citizens.[7] This combination of economic and social analysis allows Easterling to look at the Revolution from an economic standpoint while also offering an account of what life at the time was like for the people. This fulfills Easterling’s goal of studying the Mexican Revolution in a way that would transform into a “people’s history.”[8] He also offers some discussion of the popular revolutionary leaders and their agendas. This ultimately furthers Easterling’s argument that the Mexican Revolution gave rise to prominent figures who won the support of peasants through their social reforms and thus succeeded in creating a more socially and economically stable state.

Knight and Easterling expressly argue that land reform movements were one of the major contributors to the onset of economic stability and social prosperity in Mexico during the Revolution. The combined work of Héctor Aguilar Camín and Lorenzo Meyer is very similar to that of Knight and Easterling. Aguilar Camín and Meyer recognize that Mexico’s wealth derived from land ownership, and therefore it needed to be more spread out amongst the social classes. Their argument revolves around reinforcing the importance of the policies and reforms pertaining to land reforms established during the Revolution because they paved the way for Mexico’s revived economy.[9] This argument is substantiated by the rising well-being of the peasantry because they had a newfound access to funds that were being accrued through land ownership. Aguilar Camín and Meyer offer statistical evidence that show how private family incomes gradually grew as a result of the land reforms movements. Furthermore, Aguilar Camín and Meyer argue that the consolidation of lands led to “the Mexican economic miracle,”[10] which refers to the mass expansion of Mexico’s economy in the twentieth century. Their economic viewpoint of the Revolution also compares to the approach of Knight and Easterling because it is an analysis of how the Revolution shaped Mexico’s economic policies, and thus created economic stability in Mexico because it changed drastically and arguably altogether. Aguilar Camín and Meyer conclude that there was indeed a deeply intertwined relationship between the economic and social spheres of revolutionary Mexico.

The studies of Knight, Easterling, and Aguilar Camín and Meyer combined allow for an examination of the relationship between the political, economic and social impacts of the Mexican Revolution. This paper will expand on the arguments of the authors above because it aims to analyze the base ideologies, implementations, and success of the policies pertaining to land reform. The primary sources that allow for such examination are political pamphlets, speeches, and official government documents that discuss practical solutions on how to execute and achieve land reforms. The revolutionary process coupled with the execution of these reforms modernized the nation’s economy and political system, as well as transformed the lives of ordinary Mexicans. I argue that the economic, political, and social spheres of Mexico were transformed by the land reform movements because they were instrumental to the overall success of the Revolution. Furthermore, land reforms benefited peasants, created a positive relationship between the government and the people, and established an economic nationalism. This essay builds upon other works in the field because it will ultimately show how the Revolution was a stepping stone that allowed Mexico to go from a largely rural and economically stagnant country into a productive and modern power.

In order to comprehend the importance of land reforms, it is imperative to understand why they were necessary, who proposed these reforms, how they were implemented, and whether or not the reforms were successful. The answers to these questions will be navigated in multiple sections of this essay. First and foremost, historical context of events leading up to the Revolution will display the need for land reforms and also the first proponents of such reforms. The main focus of analysis on land reforms will revolve around documents that were published between 1911 and 1917. These documents were written by different revolutionary figures, and therefore offer conflicting ideas on how to successfully implement the necessary land reforms. It is also evident in these documents that land reforms did not always progress in a straight line, which means that they did suffer set-backs and stagnant periods where no reforms were being executed. Nonetheless, analyzing these documents will prove that the consolidation of land reforms were constructed by ideas from each of these documents. The essay will conclude with an overview of the success of land reforms that continued on for many years after the Revolution, and how they ultimately contributed to Mexico’s revived economic and social spheres.

The Call for a Revolution

From 1876 to 1911, Mexico had been under the dictatorship of President Porfirio Diaz. He obtained control of Mexico by staging a coup against the government, thus displaying his militaristic power. In 1877, Diaz was elected the first President of Mexico, after running on a campaign of “no re-election.”[11] This won him the support and trust of the people because they believed that their government would now function as a true democracy. However, when Diaz took office he swiftly had the constitution amended to allow consecutive terms in office, and then removed all remaining restrictions on re-election. His presidency kept up a facade of a liberal democracy by maintaining the structure of elections, although Diaz had no intention of giving up control of Mexico.[12] In order to secure his power, Diaz catered to the private desires of different elite interest groups. He refused to interfere with their wealth and haciendas (large plantations) at the expense of the peasants. Most of Mexico’s lands were owned by the upper elite class, thus making it impossible for ordinary citizens to own any land, or make any kind of living off of the land.[13] Furthermore, those with large debts were essentially debt-peons to the landowners. Small farmers were also at a disadvantage because they could not get bank loans since the amounts were extremely small, and the bank did not deem the expense worthy of assessing.[14]Diaz’s authoritarian regime kept civil society suppressed under harsh economic policies that ensured him the support of the wealthy estate owners, but left the peasants impoverished and desperate for change.

During the presidential elections of 1910, Porfirio Diaz decided to allow Francisco Madero, an elite liberal, to run against him.[15] Madero was a wealthy landowner who had very similar economic ideologies as Diaz, but politically he felt that Diaz’ presidency was not a democracy. Eventually, President Diaz had Madero jailed. Despite this, the elections continued. Madero was confident in his campaign because he was able to gather much of the popular support even while incarcerated. But when the government announced the official results, Diaz was re-elected almost unanimously. Madero instantaneously questioned the validity of these results, and the rumor of electoral fraud aroused widespread anger throughout Mexico.[16] In response to the illegal elections and President Diaz’s regime, Madero published his Plan of San Louis Potosí on October 5, 1910. The plan accused Diaz of conducting a conspiracy of fraudulent elections, and Madero thereby declared them null and void. The plan states that “such conduct was indispensable to show to the whole world that the Mexican people are fit for democracy, that they are thirsty for liberty, and that their present rulers do not measure up to their aspirations.”[17] Madero’s plan called for an armed rebellion against Diaz’s authoritarian regime. He compelled the Mexican people to rise in arms against Diaz’s illegal presidency on Sunday, November 20, 1910, at 6:00 pm, thus prompting the official start of the Mexican Revolution. Madero declared himself President of Mexico, and called for the restitution of lands from the wealthy landowners to be given to villages and communities.[18] His plan acknowledges that small landowners had been exploited and essentially run out by the government that was supposed to protect them. He states that ” it is in the interest of justice to restore these lands to the original owners, and as such anyone who has acquired land by immoral and illegal means must return it to the original owners.”[19] This won him the support of the people because the Revolution now had agrarian reform goals that benefitted them over the elites.

Land Reform Takes Center Stage

Madero’s presidency marked a new hopeful era for the Mexican people. In an attempt to reconcile the nation, Madero even employed some of Porfirio Diaz’s cabinet members in his own cabinet. This caused other revolutionary leaders to question Madero’s true ability to run the country. Madero briefly proved his intention to restore Mexico by publishing a reform program. This program introduced some agrarian reforms, such as restructuring the credit system for

rural farmers, which was to be facilitated by the banks who had previously refused to give out loans to the small landowners. Although this was helpful, it did not revert lands back to the people. Instead, the wealthy hacienda owners who had been propped up by Porfirio Diaz remained in control of most of Mexico’s land. They demanded small farmers to buy back their lands with loans from the bank.[20] This furthered the notion that Madero was being too lenient on Diaz’s former constituents, and thus, was not living up to the promises he made in his Plan of San Louis Potosí . Thus, on November 25, 1911, Emiliano Zapata, who became a prominent leader later on in the Revolution, published his Plan of Ayala , which accused Madero of being unconcerned with pursuing the mass land reforms that he had originally promised to the people.[21]

In order to further Zapata’s own ideas of land reform, which were in complete contrast to Madero’s tactics of implementation and execution, his political pamphlet titled, Plan of Ayala, included seven key points that outlined his approach to achieving the desperately needed land reforms. Perhaps the most influential point that Zapata makes is as follows:

In virtue of the fact that the immense majority of Mexican pueblos and citizens are owners of no more than the land they walk on, suffering the horrors of poverty without being able to improve their social condition in any way or to dedicate themselves to Industry or Agriculture, because lands, timber, and water are monopolized in a few hands, for this cause there will be expropriated the third part of those monopolies from the powerful proprietors of them, with prior compensation, in order that the pueblos and citizens of Mexico may obtain ejidos (village lands), colonies, and foundations for pueblos, or fields for sowing or laboring, and the Mexicans’ lack of prosperity and well-being may improve in all and for all.”[22]

This quote is significant because it highlights the grievances of the people. He acknowledges that the ordinary citizens of Mexico had no means of obtaining any kind of personal property, and therefore, they are condemned to remain in poverty because they could not make a living. Zapata blames this on the wealthy elites in Mexico who had been able to consolidate their power over the agricultural and economic spheres of Mexican society.

As a solution to Mexico’s economic problems, Zapata suggests that Mexican citizens should have the right to access funds that would allow them to purchase lands of their own. These private lands would be used for harvest, thus bringing in a new source of income for the new landowners. Zapata concludes this point by asserting that these reforms would bring success and well-being to all Mexicans. His supporters believed that “the Revolution was an opportunity to settle scores with their betters and to raise themselves up socially and economically.”[23] This new social standing for the people would be attained through provisions made in Zapata’s plan. He said that “any usurpers who claim the right to lands must argue their case before special courts to be established at the victory of the Revolution.”[24] This clause took aim at any elites who had confiscated lands from the lower classes. The elites would now have to go to court to prove they had a right to the land. Zapata was essentially revoking their authority over lands that they had come to possess because the plan reinstates property rights back to the campesino (farm worker).[25]

While Zapata’s plan offered theoretical solutions, he needed to be sure that his plan also offered attainable solutions for achieving the type of land reforms that he believed were necessary. He addresses this issue within the Plan of Ayala by saying that “in order to execute the procedures regarding the properties aforementioned, the laws of disamortization and nationalization will be applied as they fit.”[26] Disamortization was the confiscation and prompt selling of lands that belonged to the Catholic Church within Mexico. This was proposed by Zapata because the Catholic Church was extremely rich in land, and they also played an instrumental role in state conflicts during the Revolution. Zapata saw this as a problem because the Church was not conducting or portraying itself as an ally to the people and therefore, he planned to take away their power by limiting their ownership of vast lands. Nationalization was also fundamental to Zapata’s plan because it allowed private assets to be converted into public assets by bringing them under the ownership of the national government.[27] This provided the revolutionary government a legitimate means of revoking lands belonging to Mexican elites and bringing the land under the control of the government, whose stated goal was to eventually disperse it among the land-deprived citizens of Mexico. This was a crucial revolutionary measure because it transformed rural property relations and reversed established property laws.[28]

Emiliano Zapata’s popularity was growing at an astonishing pace because he was garnering vast support from the people based on his ideas for achievable land reforms. It was only a matter of time until the federal government, or what was left of it, realized that the brutal Revolution was being spurred on by those who demanded land reforms. Luis Cabrera, a leading social reformer in the Mexican Congress, even said that “the agrarian issue is the Achilles’ Heel of the Revolution.”[29] Furthermore, Cabrera believed that without real change the Revolution would carry on and therefore prevent lasting social peace.[30] In an attempt to align the government with the ideals of the Revolution, Cabrera delivered a speech to Congress entitled, “ The Restoration of the Ejido .” In this speech he argued that “the restoration of peace should be brought about by economic reforms that will bring conflicting social groups into a relative state of equilibrium.”[31] He proposed restoring the ejidos of Mexico as an economic reform because they would be overseen by village governments instead of the small elite class. This would allow the peasantry to be rescued from the overbearing stipulations of the elite because the lands would now be facilitated by the local governments. In order to assure that lands are fully restored, Cabrera said that “true restorations aim to recover the lands that have passed into the hands of large landowners, some of whom are protected by their influential families.”[32] In essence, Cabrera is advocating for the lands of Mexico’s most prominent and wealthiest families to be taken away.

The propositions that Cabrera makes in his speech accuse the elites of usurping lands through unjust and violent tactics, thus furthering his argument that they have no legitimate rights to own them. He continues his speech by asserting that the restoration of the ejidos would be economically advantageous because it would grant the peasantry new financial opportunities. Cabrera describes these opportunities as “having land where they could plant freely, even a small plot, workers could augment their salaries without relying on haciendas (large estates owned by elites).”[33] The peasantry would not have to rely on the haciendas because they in theory would no longer exist. Those private lands would be reverted to public use, which was to be overseen by regulations that would be enforced by the local governments. Cabrera especially advocated for this measure because he believed it could potentially resolve political issues within Mexico as well because it “required unprecedented social relationships through co-operative effort and government assistance.”[34] This meant that the government and the people would have to work together to make sure that this new system of communal lands was beneficial to everyone, but especially for the peasantry because they had been oppressed for so long. In order to ensure their success, regulations that divided small plots within the large communal lands for subsistence farming would be enforced. This would allow small farmers to grow enough to support themselves, thus relieving them from a reliance on poor wages that were afforded to them when they worked on the haciendas. Cabrera reiterates that this would bring social and economic equality because one class would no longer be higher up than the other. Cabrera concludes his speech by saying that “when a time of revolution arises, we must apply pressure to resolve the problem we must cut, we must demand sacrifices, because these are the times when people are willing to make those sacrifices and changes can be made easily.”[35] It can be assumed that Cabrera was referring to the sacrifices that the citizens would have to make in order to usher in a greater good for all of Mexico.

A Brief Setback

Although Emilio Zapata’s Plan of Ayala and Luis Cabrera’s speech, “ The Restoration of the Ejido ,” brought forth solutions to the agrarian nature of the Revolution, a collapse in government threatened to derail their progress. Venustiano Carranza consolidated power over what was left of the Mexican government in 1915.[36] He was a rich landowner and was extremely conservative. He also did not advocate for such widespread land reforms as Zapata and Cabrera. Because of this, he was soon met with disapproval from the people because they knew that he was unlikely to continue the efforts of land reforms. In order to appease them, Carranza and his top aides issued an Agrarian Decree, but this only promised lands to those who could prove that they needed it.[37] This was completely unattainable for Mexican peasants because they had no documentation or proof of their low incomes, mainly because they barely had an income at all. This infuriated the people, and a resurgence of support for Emiliano Zapata and his new ally Pancho Villa took place. These political enemies of Carranza, who were capable of recruiting and leading large armies, began to forcefully confiscate lands from the rich elites. In response, Carranza set up “The Administration of Confiscated Lands,” which was responsible for negotiating the return of lands back to their rightful owner.[38] This was an astounding political move for Carranza because the wealthy elites had to petition the government for the return of their lands, thus making them loyal to Carranza. He was able to restore thousands of acres of lands back to elite landowners, much to the dismay of the Mexican people as well as Zapata and Villa. Carranza knew that Zapata and Villa would not cease their revolts and therefore, he would have to do something in order to retain his power over Mexico.

In 1916, Carranza called for a Constitutional Convention. He invited conservative members of government who he knew shared his ideals and visions for Mexico. However, he also invited radical delegates who insisted that this new Constitution include sweeping land reforms.[39] After much consideration and deliberation, the Constitution was ratified in early 1917, which is also the same year that Venustiano Carranza became President of Mexico. Article 27 of this new constitution is by far the longest and most detailed section because it specifically deals with land reforms. The Article expressly states that:

Ownership of the lands and waters within the boundaries of the national territory is vested originally in the Nation, which has had, and has, the right to transmit title thereof to private persons, thereby constituting private property. Private property shall not be expropriated except for reasons of public use and subject to payment of indemnity. The Nation shall at all times have the right to impose on private property such limitations as the public interest may demand, as well as the right to regulate the utilization of natural resources which are susceptible of appropriation, in order to conserve them and to ensure a more equitable distribution of public wealth.[40]

In simplified terms, the article says that all lands are to be overseen by the National Government who will determine how lands will be awarded. If one is awarded a plot of land,,it will constitute his private property, and therefore, he must maintain it. This required land owners to utilize all their lands for production. If they did not do so, the National Government maintained the right to confiscate and redistribute these lands to someone who could produce them. The elite land owners of Mexico disapproved of these clauses because it eliminated their ability to accrue overwhelming amounts of land that allowed them to bring in extremely large profits. Instead, the Constitution now accorded a fixed amount of land to anyone who asked for it. Of course they would also be held to the same requirement of utilizing all the land that would be granted to them.

Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution allowed for a redistribution of Mexico’s lands, and therefore Mexico’s wealth, but at the oversight of the federal government. Ordinary citizens would now have an unprecedented source of income, thus diminishing the social and economic gap between the elites and the peasantry.[41] Article 27 concludes by declaring null and void all previous transactions of lands, waters, rancherías, ejidos, or lands of any other kind belonging to villages that were sold or taken by private entities.[42] This measure ensured that all lands would be redistributed according to new policies stated within the Constitution that allowed unprecedented access to lands amongst all Mexican citizens. This means that the Constitution was not meant to be seen as taking away from the elites and giving to the peasants, but was a basis for equality of all peoples of Mexico. Therefore, the Constitution was not only a political foundation for government, but also a social institution for the citizens.[43]

While the new Constitution of Mexico provided the provisions needed to achieve land reforms that would usher in economic success and social prosperity for the people, the implementation of these clauses was very slow and sometimes even nonexistent. The lack of executing the Constitution is accredited to Carranza because he was displeased that the Constitution itself turned out to be more radical than he had wanted.[44] The accusation of Carranza’s hesitant compliance “suggests that what Carranza and his colleagues chiefly wanted was a Constitution, the hypothetical contents of which could be later reviewed, rewritten and ignored (all of which happened).”[45] This shows that Carranza had little or no intent of actually institutionalizing the clauses within the Constitution, especially those in Article 27. His Presidency was therefore known as being corrupt, as well as being unable or unwilling to achieve change. This was a major problem for the Mexican people, as they were misled into believing that they had actually achieved the overall goal of the Revolution. With little hope for Mexico, the Revolution took a turn for the worse. Armed revolts and fighting between revolutionary factions resumed at a more destructive pace. Carranza’s political enemies, especially Pancho Villa, promised to continue mounting uprisings against him throughout his Presidency.[46] While this was good for uniting the people under prominent revolutionary figures, the constant fighting completely decimated Mexico’s economy and damaged the nation’s food supply.[47] By the end of Carranza’s Presidency in 1920, the Mexican people were left hopeless, much like they were when the Revolution first began in 1910.

Post-Revolutionary Reconstruction (using a title case here)

In modern definitions, the Mexican Revolution lasted from 1910 to 1920. However, Mexico was still largely in the same economic and social levels of despair well into the 1920’s. One could even suggest that while the Revolution was successful in removing their dictator, the rest of the Revolution’s goals, particularly land reforms, were nowhere close to being fulfilled. Revolutionary leaders as well as the Mexican people were unwilling to secede their demands because they did not want the mass destruction committed during the height of the Revolution, nor the deaths of more than one million Mexicans to be in vain. Therefore, the 1920’s in Mexico was coined as an “era of reconstruction.”[48] For the first time since the Revolution began, Mexico was under a stable government that was spearheaded by a new president, Alvaro Obregon. He won the Presidency with an overwhelming vote by promising the people that he would listen to their grievances, and come up with viable solutions for success. To the Mexican people’s relief, he kept this promise by making land reforms the most prominent point on his political agenda. He ardently pushed state governors to carry out the land reforms that were articulated in the Constitution of 1917.[49] By 1921, 427,000 square kilometers of lands were redistributed to 44,000 peasants.[50] While this was a slow process, Obregon had advocated more for these reforms than any other president or national governmental leader during the Revolution. This was a huge ornamental victory for Emiliano Zapata’s cause because he had advocated for sweeping land reforms all throughout the Revolution, and was, interestingly, one of Obregon’s political enemies earlier in the Revolution.[51] Being that Zapata was still a prominent figure (even after his death in 1919) in post-Revolutionary Mexico, his approval of the implementation of Article 27 was the basis towards unification and nationalization. Zapata’s home state of Morelos saw the most rapid undertaking of Article 27, so much so that it became a model for other Mexican states.[52]

The Revolution Pays Off

In 1934 Lazaro Cardenas won the Presidency of Mexico. He was a socialist, and he immediately dedicated his presidency to empowering the citizens of Mexico. He aimed to abolish the hacienda system that was still in place because of previous elite-friendly governments. This demonstrates how land reforms had never been truly fulfilled since the end of the Revolution, and therefore Cardenas decided to focus on the redistribution of lands. He consulted Luis Cabrera’s ideas in “ The Restoration of the Ejido ” and incorporated them into his plan that was legally upheld by Article 27 of the Constitution. With these two templates of how to achieve land reform, Cardenas enacted these reforms that were said to be “sweeping, rapid, and, in some respects, innovative.”[53] He created ejidos, just like Luis Cabrera had advocated. Cardenas believed that “the ejido offered the best solution to the problem of the landless poor, as large communal holdings parceled out to individual farmers often combined access to land with the advantage of farming on a large scale with shared resources.”[54] This did help the economic and social standing of the peasantry because they now had stable work and incomes, thus making them productive citizens of Mexican society. Prior to the Revolution, ejidos were not a popular form of land possession. However, Cardenas was so effective in creating and granting fair access to these lands that they became “a cornerstone of Mexican agriculture.”[55] This new extent of land reforms not only affected small farmers, but also caused a boost in commercial agriculture.[56] Particularly, the regions of Northern Mexico, Yucatan, Baja California, Sonora, Michoacán and Chiapas were the highest profile areas of expropriation because they were the center of production of commercially grown cotton, hemp and grains. Thus, the farmers of these regions engaged in the mass production of these crops, but they were still able to farm and produce enough food for their own domestic use. Farmers who produced different crops also began participating in a system where they would either trade or sell their yield to neighboring areas.[57] This allowed for a change within the social sphere of Mexican society because the people began to interact with one another in a positive and productive manner.

Cardenas’ implementation and execution of the ejido system was able to fulfill his goal of decimating the hacienda system. However, this did not come easily. Cardenas had to be very meticulous and thorough because he was dealing with mass amounts of land that would eventually be turned into many smaller holdings. In order to ensure that the individual ejidos would be successful, Cardenas made sure that at least two of the three following circumstances were present: the land was fertile and irrigated, its production had commercial value, and that labor organizations were requesting to run the land.[58] These tactics proved instrumental to creating successful and functional ejidos because Cardenas was able to redistribute a total of 49,580,203 acres.[59] These lands went to 771,640 peasant families that were grouped within 11,347 ejidos.[60] Furthermore, each beneficiary received an average of 63.7 acres.[61] These numbers are made even more significant because Cardenas used the ideas of revolutionary figures to achieve these successful land reforms. This shows that although land reforms were difficult to attain during the Revolution, the determination of the people as well as the government allowed the revolutionary agenda to continue well beyond the revolutionary years. The lives of the Mexican citizens had drastically changed because Cardenas provided them economic stability through access to good land. Because of this, he had also won himself the admiration and unconditional support of the farmers and ordinary citizens of Mexico. The total economy of Mexico also changed because Cardenas also nationalized industries and supported commercial agriculture. Therefore, Mexico became an economic mix of social farming and industrial capitalism. This coalition of economic forces set the tone for modern Mexico, especially when it came to its modernization period.

The Revolution in Mexico was arguably one of the most destructive and devastating eras in Mexican history. People were fighting a brutal civil war, the peasants were being hopelessly oppressed, and the government was so unstable that many power struggles contributed to the long, drawn-out events of the Revolution. While all this negativity encompasses the Revolution, revolutionary and political leaders such as Francisco Madero, Emiliano Zapata, and Luis Cabrera openly supported the demands of the people for land reforms, which allowed for a discussion on how to achieve these reforms to permeate all aspects of Mexican society. The Revolution without a doubt brought on the inspiring efforts to restore the lands of Mexico. Credit is also given to post-revolutionary leaders, like Lazaro Cardenas, for continuing the effort for land reform. After twenty years of trying to achieve the land reforms that the citizens so adamantly demanded, much more had transpired from these reforms. The people gained relief from their economic troubles because they had been granted good lands to farm, which allowed them to bring in stable incomes. Their social status had also changed because there were no longer such obvious distinctions between the wealthy and the poor. Landless peasants now finally had the opportunity and means to become landowners, all thanks to land reform. The initial goal of the Revolution was fulfilled by the Cardenas presidency because Mexico now had a democracy that was run by leaders who supported the betterment of all people in Mexico. Therefore, through land reforms that were proposed during the Revolution, and carried out for many years after, the Mexican economy was revitalized and political leaders invested their efforts in creating a stable society. Further research on the capitalist nature of Mexico’s economy should follow the modernization era of the 1950’s to 1980’s. It is within this time in Mexican history that further reforms were made, though some in the interest of the elites, which allowed Mexico to currently become the 12th largest economy worldwide. In just about 100 years, Mexico has been completely revived.


“Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917,” in The Mexico Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Gilbert M. Joseph and Timothy Henderson. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002.

Cabrera, Luis. “The Restoration of the Ejido,” in The Mexico Reader: Culture, Society, and Politics. Gilbert M. Joseph and Timothy Henderson. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002.

Madero, Francisco “Plan of San Louis Potosí” in Mexican History: A Primary Source Reader. Nora E. Jaffary, Edward W. Osowski, and Susie S. Porter. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2010.

Zapata, Emiliano “The Plan of Ayala” in Mexican History: A Primary Source Reader. Nora E. Jaffary, Edward W. Osowski, and Susie S. Porter. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2010.

Aguilar Camín, Héctor, and Lorenzo Meyer. In the Shadow of the Mexican Revolution: Contemporary Mexican History, 1910-1989. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993.

Craven, David. “Lineages of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1940).” Third Text 28, no. 3 (May 2014): 223-234.

Easterling, Stuart. The Mexican Revolution: A Short History, 1910-1920. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2012.

Garner, Paul H. Porfirio Díaz: Profiles in Power. Harlow, England: Longman, 2001.

Hall, Linda. Alvaro Obregon and the Politics of Mexican Land Reform, 1920-1924. The Hispanic Historical Review, 1980.

Joseph, Gilbert M., and Jürgen Buchenau. Mexico’s Once and Future Revolution: Social Upheaval and the Challenge of Rule since the Late Nineteenth Century. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013.

Katz, Friedrich. The Secret War in Mexico. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Kelly, James J., “Article 27 and Mexican Land Reform: The Legacy of Zapata’s Dream” (1994). Scholarly Works. Paper 668.

Knight, Alan. “Cardenismo: Juggernaut or Jalopy?” Journal of Latin American Studies. Vol. 26, No. 1 (Feb. 1994): pages of full article.

Knight, Alan. The Mexican Revolution, Volume 1: Porfirians, Liberals, and Peasants. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

Knight, Alan. The Mexican Revolution, Volume 2: Counter-Revolution and Reconstruction. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

McCaa, Robert. “Missing Millions: The Demographic Costs of the Mexican Revolution.” Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos 19, no. 2 (2003): 367-400.

Meyer, Michael C., William L. Sherman, and Susan M. Deeds. The Course of Mexican History. 9th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Parkinson, Roger. Zapata: A Biography. New York: Stein and Day, 1975.

Richmond, Douglas W. Venustiano Carranza’s Nationalist Struggle, 1893-1920. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.

Stanley F. Shadle, Stanley F. Andrés Molina Enríquez: Mexican Land Reformer of the Revolutionary Era. Tucson: University of Arizona Press 1994.

Vaughan, Mary K., and Stephen E. Lewis. The Eagle and the Virgin: Nation and Cultural Revolution in Mexico, 1920-1940. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

Gonzales, Michael J. The Mexican Revolution, 1910-1940. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002.

Goldstone, Jack A. Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014

Knight, Alan. The Mexican Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Wasserman, Mark. The Mexican Revolution: A Brief History with Documents. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins, 2012.

[1] Roger Parkinson, Zapata: A Biography (New York: Stein and Day, 1975)Page #

[2]Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2016) page #

[3]Mary K. Vaughan and Stephen E. Lewis, The Eagle and the Virgin: Nation and Cultural Revolution in Mexico, 1920-1940 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006) page #

[4]Robert McCaa, Missing Millions: The Demographic Costs of the Mexican Revolution (Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos 19, no. 2, 2003), page #s. Citation needs to be formatted for a journal entry rather than a book entry.

[5] Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. Abbreviated citation needed with page number(s).

[6]Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution, Volume 1: Porfirians, Liberals, and Peasants (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990) (abbreviated citation with page #s)

[7]Stuart Easterling, The Mexican Revolution: A Short History, 1910-1920 (Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2012) (abbreviated citation with page #s)

[8] Stuart Easterling, The Mexican Revolution: A Short History, 1910-1920. ((abbreviated citation with page #s)

[9]Héctor Aguilar Camín and Lorenzo Meyer, In the Shadow of the Mexican Revolution: Contemporary Mexican History, 1910-1989 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993) page #s

[10] Héctor Aguilar Camín and Lorenzo Meyer, In the Shadow of the Mexican Revolution: Contemporary Mexican History, 1910-1989. (abbreviated citation with page #s)

[11]Paul H Garner, Porfirio Díaz: Profiles in Power (Harlow, England: Longman, 2001) page #s

[12] Paul H Garner, Porfirio Díaz: Profiles in Power. (abbreviated citation with page #s)

[13]Michael J Gonzalez, The Mexican Revolution, 1910-1940 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002) page #s

[14]Stanley F. Shadle, Andrés Molina Enríquez: Mexican Land Reformer of the Revolutionary Era (Tucson: University of Arizona Press 1994) page #s

[15]Paul H Garner, Porfirio Díaz: Profiles in Power.

[16]Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. (abbreviated citation with page #s)

[17] Francisco Madero, “Plan of San Louis Potosí” in Mexican History: A Primary Source Reader, eds. Nora E. Jaffary, Edward W. Osowski, and Susie S. Porter (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2010) page #s

[18]Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. (abbreviated citation with page #s)

[19] Francisco Madero, “Plan of San Louis Potosí” in Mexican History: A Primary Source Reader. (abbreviated citation with page #s)

[20]Stanley F. Shadle, Mexican Land Reform of the Revolutionary Era (Tucson: University of Arizona Press 1994) page #s or abbreviated citation with page #s if source already cited above

[21] Emiliano Zapata, “The Plan of Ayala” in Mexican History: A Primary Source Reader, eds. Nora E. Jaffary, Edward W. Osowski, and Susie S. Porter (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2010)

[22] Emiliano Zapata, “The Plan of Ayala” in Mexican History: A Primary Source Reader. (abbreviated citation with page #s)

[23] Gilbert M. Joseph and Jürgen Buchenau, Mexico’s Once and Future Revolution: Social Upheaval and the Challenge of Rule since the Late Nineteenth Century (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013) page #s

[24] Emiliano Zapata, “The Plan of Ayala” in Mexican History: A Primary Source Reader. (abbreviated citation with page #s)

[25] Stuart Easterling, The Mexican Revolution: A Short History, 1910-1920.

[26] Emiliano Zapata, “The Plan of Ayala” in Mexican History: A Primary Source Reader. (abbreviated citation with page #s)

[27] Michael C. Meyer, William L. Sherman, and Susan M. Deeds, The Course of Mexican History. 9th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) page #s

[28] Stuart Easterling, The Mexican Revolution: A Short History, 1910-1920 (abbreviated citation with page #s)

[29] Luis Cabrera, “The Restoration of the Ejido,” in The Mexico Reader: Culture, Society, and Politics, ed. Gilbert M. Joseph and Timothy Henderson (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002), 349.

[30] Gilbert M. Joseph and Jürgen Buchenau, Mexico’s Once and Future Revolution: Social Upheaval and the Challenge of Rule since the Late Nineteenth Century. (abbreviated citation with page #s)

[34] Stanley F. Shadle, Mexican Land Reform of the Revolutionary Era (abbreviated citation with page #s)

[36] Michael J Gonzalez, The Mexican Revolution, 1910-1940. (abbreviated citation with page #s)

[37] Linda Hall, Alvaro Obregon and the Politics of Mexican Land Reform, 1920-1924 (The Hispanic Historical Review, 1980), page #s

[38] Friedrich Katz, The Secret War in Mexico (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), page #s

[39] Michael C. Meyer, William L. Sherman, and Susan M. Deeds, The Course of Mexican History. 9th ed. (abbreviated citation with page #s)

[40] “Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917,” quoted in The Mexico Reader: History, Culture, Politics, eds. Gilbert M. Joseph and Timothy Henderson (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002), page #s

[41] Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution, Volume 2: Counter-Revolution and Reconstruction abbreviated citation and page #s

[42] “Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917,” page #s.

[43] Héctor Aguilar Camín and Lorenzo Meyer, In the Shadow of the Mexican Revolution: Contemporary Mexican History, 1910-1989 abbreviated citation and page #s

[44] Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution, Volume 2: Counter-Revolution and Reconstruction abbreviated citation and page #s

[45] Knight, The Mexican Revolution, Volume 2, 471.

[46] Knight, The Mexican Revolution, Volume 2, page #s.

[47] Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution, Volume 2: Counter-Revolution and Reconstruction abbreviated citation and page #s

[48] Michael C Meyer, William L. Sherman, and Susan M. Deeds, The Course of Mexican History. 9th ed. abbreviated citation and page #s

[49] Alan Knight, The Mexican Revolution, Volume 2: Counter-Revolution and Reconstruction abbreviated citation and page #s

[50] Aguilar Camín and Meyer, 64.

[51] Linda Hall, Alvaro Obregon and the Politics of Mexican Land Reform, 1920-1924 abbreviated citation and page #s

[52] Linda Hall, Alvaro Obregon and the Politics of Mexican Land Reform, 1920-1924 abbreviated citation and page #s

[53] Alan Knight, Cardenismo: Juggernaut or Jalopy? (Journal of Latin American Studies. Vol. 26, No. 1, 1994), page 82. Reformat for journal article entry

[54] Gilbert M. Joseph and Jürgen Buchenau, Mexico’s Once and Future Revolution: Social Upheaval and the Challenge of Rule since the Late Nineteenth Century. Page #s

[55] Gilbert M. Joseph and Jürgen Buchenau, Mexico’s Once and Future Revolution: Social Upheaval and the Challenge of Rule since the Late Nineteenth Century. abbreviated citation and page #s

[56] Aguilar Camín and Meyer, 132.

[57] Gilbert M. Joseph and Jürgen Buchenau, Mexico’s Once and Future Revolution: Social Upheaval and the Challenge of Rule since the Late Nineteenth Century. abbreviated citation and page #s

[58] Aguilar Camín and Meyer, 143.

[60] Aguilar Camín and Meyer, 143.

Part of Diego Rivera’s “History of Mexico” mural at the National Palace in Mexico City. The cropped portion features the images of Emiliano Zapata (left with sombrero), Felipe Carrillo Puerto (center), and José Guadalupe Rodríquez (right with sombrero) behind banner featuring the Zapatista slogan, Tierra y Libertad (Land and Liberty).The photographical reproduction of this work is covered under the article 148, VII of the Mexican copyright law (Ley Federal de Derechos de Autor), which states that
«Literary and artistic works already published may be used, provided that normal commercialization of the work is not affected, without authorization from the copyrightholder and without remuneration, invariably citing the source and without altering the work, only in the following cases: […]
VII. Reproduction, communication, and distribution by means of drawings, paintings, photographs, and audiovisual means of works visible from public places».

Urban and Community Studies

Dimensions of Social Inequality and Urban–Rural Differences in Crime Rates

We now turn from examining models of urbanization to a review of research on crime in urban spaces. Research examining social inequality and urban/community conflicts highlights several distinctive patterns, including racial and economic segregation within North American cities. Racial and ethnic segregation across cities is well-entrenched and appears resistant to change. Contemporary social research investigating the rise of an urban underclass and the ghettoization of inner-city areas suggests that the geographic isolation of low-income urban blacks from predominantly white and more prosperous neighborhoods presents significant obstacles to many urban blacks. Edward Shishadeh and Nicole Flynn argue that ethnic isolation leads to weakened labor force attachment. In extreme cases, it can create an environment that fosters a self-image based on violence and reinforce a variety of behaviors that increase the social disadvantage of African-Americans. Racial and ethnic isolation can also divest communities of pluralist politics and render them vulnerable during periods of economic decline and government cutbacks. However, local noneconomic institutions are relevant to reducing urban (black) crime rates, because confronted with limited access to the legitimate labor force, access to institutions such as churches and civil organizations works to extend social networks, increase civic engagement, and provide a means to address community problems.

In the United States, research has consistently shown that crime rates are higher in urban than in rural areas. In addition, it is known that African-Americans and other visible minorities tend to locate in larger cities. The question that arises is whether there is a confounding effect between urbanism and race in accounting for variation in urban–rural crime differences. The urban–rural crime difference holds for several different societies and across several different historical periods. Crossnational research and studies of cities in the Third World offer considerable evidence of resilient urban–rural differences in crime rates. Contemporary research reveals that this difference remains strong after controlling for race, age, and sex population compositions. The urban–rural crime relationship is stronger and more consistent in the case of crimes against property and so-called ‘victimless crimes’ than in the case of interpersonal violence.

Attempts to explain the relationship between crime and urban versus rural residence find their origins in the work of Louis Wirth and the community-lost thesis. Wirth contended that size, density, and heterogeneity of urban places undermine patterns of personal and social control. In turn, these factors increase the risk of crime and other social ills. He argued that “urbanism as a way of life” promotes social estrangement and alienation, which allows urban residents to escape the influence of informal social controls that operate more effectively in less urbanized places. Reduced controls over deviant motivations encourage predatory behaviors.

Other researchers suggest that the deterministic model provided by Wirth fails to consider the ways in which the composition of urban and rural populations differ and thus the differences in the types of people who generally live in urban and rural locations. For example, Herbert Gans maintained in his 1962 book The Urban Villagers that Wirth’s depiction of the city as alienating and anomic was inconsistent with a large body of ethnographic literature demonstrating that urban settings are diverse in their characteristics, many of which are characterized by thriving communities (reflective of the community-saved thesis). From this point of view, sometimes termed the population composition theory, higher crime rates in urban places do not result from structural factors such as size, density, and heterogeneity (which lead to diminished social and personal control). Rather, higher crime rates are an outcome of the fact that cities are more likely to be home to people (such as the young or socially disadvantaged) whose individual characteristics are associated with higher rates of crime.

Making Connections: Sociological Research

Measuring Levels of Poverty

Statistics Canada produces two relative measures of poverty: the low income measure (LIM) and the low income cut-off (LICO) measure. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada has developed an absolute measure: the market basket measure (MBM).

Low income measure: The LIM is defined as half the median family income. A person whose income is below that level is said to be in low income. The LIM is adjusted for family size.

Low income cut-off: The LICO is the income level below which a family would devote at least 20 percentage points more of their income to food, clothing, and shelter than an average family would. People are said to be in the low-income group if their income falls below this threshold. The threshold varies by family size and community size, as well as if income is calculated before or after taxes. For example, a single individual in Toronto would be said to be living in low income if his or her 2009 after-tax income was below $18,421.

Market basket measure: The MBM is a measure of the disposable income a family would need to be able to purchase a basket of goods that includes food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and other basic needs. The dollar value of the MBM varies by family size and composition, as well as community size and location. MBM data are available since 2000 only.

The three measures produce different results. In 2009, according to each measure, the following numbers of Canadians were living in low income:

  • LICO—3.2 million (9.6 per cent of the population)
  • MBM—3.5 million (10.6 per cent)
  • LIM—4.4 million (13.3 per cent)

Table 9.1 shows how the three measures also produce different results over time. Using the LICO measure results in a decreasing share of people in low income from 1996 to 2007, followed by a slight upturn in 2008 and 2009. The LIM measure results in a share of people in low income that has increased since 1990. The MBM, which has data starting only in 2000, shows results similar to the LICO but with a sharper upturn in 2008 and 2009.

Table 9.1. “Measuring Levels of Poverty” excerpted from The Conference Board of Canada “Canadian Income Inequality: Is Canada becoming more unequal?” (2011, (Used under the Conference Board of Canada’s Terms of Use:

Trends in Social Inequality

The news from sociological research into inequality is that the gap in income and wealth between the rich and the poor has been increasing in Canada (Osberg, 2008). In 1982, the median income earner in the top 1% of incomes earned seven times more than the median income earner in the other 99%. In 2010, the median income earner in the top 1% earned ten times more. Moreover, while the median income for the top 1% increased from $191,600 to $283,000 in constant dollars (i.e., adjusted for inflation), the median income for the bottom 99% only increased from $28,000 to $28,400. In the early 1980s, the top 1% of income earners accounted for 7% of the total income generated in Canada, whereas in 2010 they accounted for 10.6%, down slightly from 12.1% in 2006 (Statistics Canada, 2013). In effect, the incomes for middle-income earners remained flat over the last 30 years, while the incomes for the top 1% increased significantly both in absolute terms and as a proportion of all incomes. (Note: Median income is not the same as average income. It refers to the amount that the person who is exactly in the middle of an income range earned: 50% of the people in this income range earned more than the median, and 50% earned less).

Sources Statistics Canada (1998) Income Distribution by Size in Canada Catalogue No. 13-207, CANSIM Table 202-0701, V1546465, J.R. Podoluk (1968) Incomes of Canadians, Dominion Bureau of Statistics.

This discrepancy does not simply mean that the very rich are increasing their share of the wealth at the expense of the very poor — the middle classes are also losing their share of the wealth. One way to analyze this trend is to examine the changing distribution of income in Canada over time. In Table 9.2 (above), changes in inequality are measured by looking at how the total annual income is distributed between each fifth (or “quintile”) of Canadian families from the lowest earning to highest earning for different years (Osberg, 2008). If perfect equality of income existed, each quintile would have earned exactly 20% of the total income. Instead, Table 9.2 shows that between 1951 and 1981 the top 20% of family units received around 42% of total income, but after 1981 this figure steadily increased to 47%. On the other hand, the share of income of the middle 60% of families declined by 4.7%, going from 53.8% to 49.1%. The lowest 20% also lost 0.5% of their already tiny share, going from 4.6% to 4.1%. Although the majority of people in Canada have not seen any growth in real income in three decades (Osberg, 2008), the average income of the top 1% grew by about 180% (Yalnizyan, 2010). Over this period, the share of the total income received by the top 1% has doubled, the top 0.1% has tripled, and the top 0.01% has quintupled (Yalnizyan, 2010).

Why is this news? For several decades, Lars Osberg notes that the joke was that the study of income inequality was like watching grass grow because nothing ever happened (2008). Between 1946 and 1981, changes in income inequality were small despite the fact the Canadian economy went through a massive transformation: It transformed from an agricultural base to an industrial base the population urbanized and doubled in size the overall production of wealth measured by gross domestic product (GDP ) increased by 4.5% and per capita output increased by 227% (Osberg, 2008). As Osberg puts it, the key question was why did economic inequality not change during this period of massive transformation? From 1981 until the present, during another period of rapid and extensive economic change in which the overall production of wealth continued to expand, economic inequality has increased dramatically. What happened?

The main explanatory factor is that between 1946 and 1981 real wages increased in pace with the growth of the economy, but since 1981 only the top 20% of families have seen any meaningful increase in real income while the very wealthy have seen huge increases. The taxable income of the top 1% of families increased by 80% between 1982 and 2004 (Obsberg, 2008). Neoliberal policies of reduced state expenditures and tax cuts have been major factors in defining the difference between these two eras. The neoliberal theory that the benefits of tax cuts to the rich would “trickle down” to the middle class and the poor has proven false. The biggest losers with regard to neoliberal policy, of course, are the very poor. As Osberg notes, it was not until the 1980s and 1990s that the homeless — those forced to beg in the streets and those dependent on food banks — began to appear in Canada in significant numbers (2008).

Some have argued that to the degree that equality of opportunity exists, inequality of condition or inequality of “outcome” is perhaps not fair, but it is justifiable. Others have argued that because capitalism is built on the basis of structural inequality, equality of condition is impossible. The idea that equality of opportunity — a meritocracy — actually exists and that it leads to a meaningful access to social mobility — the movement of people from one social position to another — is debatable, as we will see below. Also, it is important to note that if total equality of condition — a world where everyone’s social position and financial rewards would be exactly the same — is unlikely, varying degrees of social inequality are possible. In fact degrees of social inequality vary significantly between jurisdictions.

Table 9.3. Gini Index of inequality: 1980-2005 (Figure courtesy of Osberg, 2008/CCPA)

The Gini Index is a measure of income inequality in which zero is absolute equality and one is absolute inequality. Table 9.3 shows that Canada’s degree of inequality increased by 5% between 1980 and 2005 from a Gini Index of 0.38 to 0.43 (Osberg, 2008). From a comparative perspective, Canada’s Gini Index is much higher than many European countries but is lower than the extremes of inequality in the United States and Mexico (who are Canada’s NAFTA partners). See Table 9.4 (below). This comparison indicates that a much greater equality of condition can exist even under the same pressures of globalization if different social and economic policy models are chosen. Even though the countries with the lowest levels of inequality — Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Austria — have progressive tax systems and strong welfare states, they are able to maintain high levels of employment and economic growth while remaining “competitive” in the global economy (Osberg, 2010). If addressing poverty and inequality rather than promoting greater transfers of wealth to the rich is a reasonable goal, a variety of viable policy alternatives are available from which Canadians can choose.

Table 9.4. Gini Coefficients of Income Concentration in 27 OECD Countries, 2000 (or Most Recent Year) (Figure courtesy of Osberg, 2008/CCPA)

Social Classes in Canada

Figure 9.9: The traditional working class — Miners in Nanaimo, B.C. (late 19th century). The Nanaimo coal mines were the site of a brutal two-year strike from 1912–1914 against low wages and dangerous working conditions. Source: Miners of Number One Mine, Nanaimo, at the pithead, B-03624 (Image courtesy of the Royal B.C. Museum) Figure 9.10: The owning class—James and Laura Dunsmuir shown beside their Italian-style garden at their Hatley Castle residence near Victoria, B.C. (now part of Royal Roads University). James Dunsmuir was heir to his family’s coal fortune and managed the family coal operations on Vancouver Island from 1876–1910. He was a powerful spokesman for capitalist interests and anti-union efforts in B.C. and spent two years as B.C. Premier from 1900–1902. (Image courtesy of …)

Does a person’s appearance indicate class? Can you tell a person’s education level based on clothing? Do you know a person’s income by the car one drives? There was a time in Canada when people’s class was more visibly apparent. In some countries, like the United Kingdom, class differences can still be gauged by differences in schooling, lifestyle, and even accent. In Canada, however, it is harder to determine class from outward appearances.

For sociologists, too, categorizing class is a fluid science. The chief division in the discipline is between Marxist and Weberian approaches to social class (Abercrombie & Urry, 1983). Marx’s analysis, as we saw earlier in this chapter, emphasized a materialist approach to the underlying structures of the capitalist economy. Marx’s definition of social class rested essentially on one variable: a group’s relation to the means of production (ownership or non-ownership of productive property or capital). In Marxist class analysis there are, therefore, two dominant classes in capitalism — the working class and the owning class — and any divisions within the classes based on occupation, status, education, etc. are less important than the tendency toward the increasing separation and polarization of these classes.

Weber defined social class slightly differently, as the “life chances” or opportunities to acquire rewards one shares in common with others by virtue of one’s possession of property, goods, or opportunities for income (1969). Owning property/capital or not owning property/capital is still the basic variable that defines a person’s class situation or life chances. However, class is defined with respect to markets rather than the process of production. It is the value of one’s products or skills on the labour market that determines whether one has greater or lesser life chances. This leads to a hierarchical class schema with many gradations. A surgeon who works in a hospital is a member of the working class in Marx’s model, just like cable TV technicians, for example, because he or she works for a wage or salary. Nevertheless the skill the surgeon sells is valued much more highly in the labour market than that of cable TV technicians because of the relative rarity of the skill, the number of years of education required to learn the skill, and the responsibilities involved in practising the skill.

Analyses of class inspired by Weber tend to emphasize gradations of status with regard to a number of variables like wealth, income, education, and occupation. Class stratification is not just determined by a group’s economic position but by the prestige of the group’s occupation, education level, consumption, and lifestyle. It is a matter of status — the level of honour or prestige one holds in the community by virtue of ones social position — as much as a matter of class. Based on the Weberian approach, some sociologists talk about upper, middle, and lower classes (with many subcategories within them) in a way that mixes status categories with class categories. These gradations are often referred to as a group’s socio-economic status (SES), their social position relative to others based on income, education, and occupation . For example, although plumbers might earn more than high school teachers and have greater life chances in a particular economy, the status division between blue-collar work (people who “work with their hands”) and white-collar work (people who “work with their minds”) means that plumbers, for example, are characterized as lower class but teachers as middle class. There is an arbitrariness to the division of classes into upper, middle, and lower.

However, this manner of classification based on status distinctions does capture something about the subjective experience of class and the shared lifestyle and consumption patterns of class that Marx’s categories often do not. An NHL hockey player receiving a salary of $6 million a year is a member of the working class, strictly speaking. He might even go on strike or get locked out according to the dynamic of capital/labour conflict described by Marx. Nevertheless it is difficult to see what the life chances of the hockey player have in common with a landscaper or truck driver, despite the fact they might share a common working-class background.

Social class is, therefore, a complex category to analyze. Social class has both a strictly material quality relating to a group’s structural position within the economic system, and a social quality relating to the formation of status gradations, common subjective perceptions of class, political divisions in society, and class-based lifestyles and consumption patterns. Taking into account both the Marxist and Weberian models, social class has at least three objective components: a group’s position in the occupational structure, a group’s position in the authority structure (i.e., who has authority over whom), and a group’s position in the property structure (i.e., ownership or non-ownership of capital). It also has an important subjective component that relates to recognitions of status, distinctions of lifestyle, and ultimately how people perceive their place in the class hierarchy.

One way of distinguishing the classes that takes this complexity into account is by focusing on the authority structure. Classes can be divided according to how much relative power and control members of a class have over their lives. On this basis, we might distinguish between the owning class (or bourgeoisie), the middle class, and the traditional working class. The owning class not only have power and control over their own lives, their economic position gives them power and control over others’ lives as well. To the degree that we can talk about a “middle class” composed of small business owners and educated, professional, or administrative labour, it is because they do not generally control other strata of society, but they do exert control over their own work to some degree. In contrast, the traditional working class has little control over their work or lives. Below, we will explore the major divisions of Canadian social class and their key subcategories.

Social Equality and Inequality

Classic Theories of Stratification and Conflict

The classic theories differ in the way they explain the sources of social inequalities, diagnose their major forms, and link these forms with social divisions, antagonisms, conflicts, and social change. While the Marxists and the elite theorists describe inequalities, antagonisms, and conflicts as polarized, the followers of Max Weber and modern functionalists depict stratification as multidimensional and graded, and they see conflicts as pathological and containable.

Both Marx’s and the elite models of stratification are ‘polar’ in the sense of stressing the opposition between two basic social categories: the capital owners versus the labor-selling workers in the case of Marxism, and politically circumscribed ‘elites’ versus the ‘masses’ in the case of elite theorists. In classic Marxism, the main source of this polarity, and therefore of class antagonism and conflict, is private ownership of the means of production that implies opposition of interests, economic exploitation, and political domination between the major classes. Other classes are of lesser importance, and they are likely to wane in the process of capitalist development. All important social inequalities and cleavages gradually coalesce with major class divisions. As the working class becomes more impoverished, it is also likely to develop ‘class consciousness’, political organization, ideological program, and leadership, thus becoming the major force of revolutionary change, inevitable in Marx’s view. In this way, Marx also sees class conflict as the ‘engine of historical change’.

The classic elite theories were formulated in opposition to Marxism by Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca, and Robert Michels (with important contributions by Max Weber). They stipulate that social power comes from organization, rather than property ownership that the central division in society is between elites (the top power holders) and the masses (the rest), rather than the major socioeconomic classes and that elites cannot be eliminated, only replaced by other elites. Revolutions are just elite replacements, and classless society is a dream. Social organization and bureaucratization inevitably give rise to elites – a fact stressed by Gaetano Mosca and Robert Michels in his famous ‘iron law of oligarchy’. These elites are conscious, cohesive, and capable of defending their own interests. While the elite–mass gap is constant, the nature of elites changes with the processes of elite circulation that accompanies – and affects – social change. The central conflict in all societies is between established elites and the challengers. Elites replace each other in the cycles of peaceful takeovers and revolutionary coups they typically alternate between tough and violent ‘lions’ and cunning ‘foxes’.

In contrast with these polar visions, the Weberian theory and the ‘mainstream’ American theories of inequality reflect the ‘multidimensional’ and ‘gradational’ image of overlapping and crosscutting ‘social ladders’. Social inequalities reflect historically variable patterns of property ownership, marketable skills, social conventions regarding honor, and positions in political hierarchies of command, especially in the state and large corporations. Social hierarchies develop independently in the economic order (classes), social order (status groups), and political-institutional order (parties). Classes, status groups, and parties typically overlap and crosscut each other. Different combinations of economic power, social honor, and political command may crystallize into distinct ‘social classes’ that are separated by mobility barriers and social distances. Moreover, the relative importance of inequalities generated by the market (classes), cultural conventions (status groups), and the structures of political command vary historically. Weber saw class antagonism and conflict as contingent on proximity and communication between class members, visibility of the ‘class enemy’, ideological organization, and the skills of political leaders.

Finally, the functional theorists see social inequalities as reflecting primarily popular evaluations of social standing. These evaluations, according to Emile Durkheim, accompany popular classifications and reflect relationship to and distance from ‘the sacred’, that is, special realm of objects, symbols, and formulas representing the collectivity. Social stratification inevitably follows social differentiation, and inequalities of social standing are anchored in social values. Conflicts are pathological symptoms of anomie, that is, normlessness or ‘moral vacuum’. Such a view reflects an image of society in which social inequalities are often seen as a ‘functional necessity’ for optimal allocation of talent, strengthening motivation, and/or as the means for strengthening social integration.

Protest Movements in 1960's West Germany

Nick Thomas. Protest Movements in 1960s West Germany: A Social History of Dissent and Democracy. Oxford and New York: Berg, 2003. xv + 277 pp. Notes, bibliography, index. $89.95 (cloth), ISBN 9-8597-3645-9 $25.00 (paper), ISBN 1-8597-3650-5.

Reviewed by: Michael L. Hughes, Department of History, Wake Forest University.
Published by: H-German (June, 2005)

Nick Thomas sets out to write a social history of protest in 1960s West Germany. He cannot provide a complete history of a topic so complex and as yet not fully researched, but he has many interesting and insightful things to say about this vibrant and significant period in German history.

Thomas proposes to offer an archive-based "survey of the whole period" and "the whole range of protests movements within the wider context of social and cultural change" (p. 7). He defines protest to include all types of public demonstrations against or for the authorities and their policies, with two major exceptions. He will not include radical right-wing activities, because that would misstate the "meaning of the term" for contemporaries (p. 8). He also says he will exclude terrorist activities because they sought radical change through violent, not "political" means.

Thomas's choices here are pragmatic, but they reveal fundamental problems in discussing protest, dissent, and democracy. Certainly the neo-Nazi right was not part of "the '60s" in the way most people conceived and conceive it--but it was indubitably part of the '60s and a movement of protest. It was not democratic in the most widely understood sense of the term--as supporting popular sovereignty, with the people broadly construed and sovereignty effectively in the hands of the people, not some putative elite. However, as Thomas later points out, the antiauthoritarians in the SDS and further Left, whom he does discuss, held a Leninist perspective that implied at least temporary predominance of a political elite in the revolutionary overthrow of the existing system and the establishment of a replacement. And while excluding a resort to violent means seems a reasonable distinction, it raises difficult problems of analysis at the margin (e.g., violence against people as opposed to violence or force against property, throwing eggs as opposed to throwing rocks as opposed to bombings) that he addresses but cannot fully work through.

Crucially, of course, not only the SDS Left had a problematic definition of democracy. Many in the governing and media elites also defined democracy very narrowly. They implicitly accepted the constitutional grant to the political parties of a privileged position in the "formation of the political will" of the populace. They then dismissed as unacceptable any efforts by those outside the parties to raise their voices in protest against specific governmental or partisan policy proposals or for the inclusion on the political agenda of new issues. Older generations of Germans tended to accept this definition. One of the most significant developments in recent German history is the increasingly widespread acceptance among postwar generations of protest movements and demonstrations as central to democracy, a development that needs to be explained and understood and that Thomas does not pursue. Obviously, definitions of democracy are value-laden and not subject to simple historical specification. They need, as Thomas notes at one point, to be negotiated. However, he would have done well to explore more explicitly the assumptions about democracy among the differing actors.

Thomas begins with an overview of some of the roots of the wave of protest that spread across West Germany from the mid-1960s. He is at special pains to emphasize the socioeconomic context, as he sees the increasing prosperity and growing consumerism of 1950s and 1960s West Germany as a crucial prerequisite for the changing attitude toward politics and toward protest that developed after 1965. Those developments, he argues, generated increased expectations for individual opportunity and freedom while proving socially corrosive in numerous respects. For example, economic change eroded traditional family relations and undercut traditional deference. While he cannot prove a connection between affluence and protest, he follows others in making a plausible case for that connection. Nonetheless, one must also note that in the 1960s widespread protest characterized not just affluent societies such as West Germany but also less affluent or even impoverished societies such as Czechoslovakia, Mexico, or the People's Republic of China. He also emphasizes the ways in which new forms and ease of communication contributed to the spread of a protest culture.

Thomas discusses the 1950s roots of the new protest culture. Traumatized by the experience of Weimar and Nazi Germany, and terrified by the specter of Communism next door, West Germans sought to create a stable democratic order. They avoided coming to grips with the Nazi past in order to integrate successfully the millions of Germans compromised by past support for Hitler and his policies into the new political order. Older Germans generally expected the opposition to be supportive of the government, and certainly not to take to the streets (actions they denounced as Nazi and Communist methods). Anticommunism was a powerful and pervasive force, and West Germans all too often tarred those who questioned any aspect of West Germany's political, social, and economic order as communists or communist stooges. The SPD failed to mount an effective political challenge to the Center-Right until its decision to accept the basics of the postwar settlement in 1959, a decision that left it ill-equipped to lead mass protests against that postwar settlement. Under the circumstances, a growing number of people on the Left saw mass extra-parliamentary movement(s) as the only effective opposition, even before the Grand Coalition. And, of course, once the SPD had joined the CDU/CSU in a Grand Coalition, from 1966-69, no significant opposition existed any longer within parliament. And while Thomas rejects any simple analogy between the Halbstarke (hooligan) riots of the 1950s and the protest movements of the 1960s, he does welcome Uta Poiger's discussion of the political implications of women's participation in the Halbstarke unrest, including the perceived threat to received notions of masculinity that it represented.

His discussion of Poiger is the first of a number of valuable references to the far-reaching rejection of deference to traditional social norms that characterized the protest movements. Central to late twentieth- and twenty-first-century notions of freedom is the right of individuals to live their lives as they choose, without submitting to social expectations or to the pretensions of social, political, and cultural elites. Refusal to defer to traditional gender norms was among the most threatening, but far from the only, instance in which young Germans were asserting alternative values. This challenge to deference was explicitly pursued in the context of demonstrations. Simply to demonstrate was to refuse to defer to political elites' definitions of what was appropriate opinion. Yet demonstrators often chose to dress in provocative fashions (unlike, for example, early twentieth-century workers, who appeared at demonstrations in their Sunday best) and to engage in mocking actions such as throwing eggs at police and political dignitaries. While alternative lifestyles could be apolitical, in the sense of having no direct connection with demands for political alternatives, they were deeply political in that they implicitly or explicitly demanded an acceptance of fundamental changes in social relationships and the social order.

Thomas points out that university reform was a crucial leitmotif in protests throughout the 1960s. West Germany had not made proper provision for the myriad of students who wished, by the 1960s, to study at university. The organization of the universities was hierarchical and authoritarian, with students having minimal opportunity to influence university policy. Leftist students also questioned the Nazi past of many professors as well as the focus on the abstract and the humanities that they saw as uncritical and, de facto, apologetic for the existing inegalitarian socioeconomic and undemocratic political orders. The Left could relatively easily mobilize students to protest against the existing university system and many of the more compromised professors, even though its larger goal of a politically engaged and critical university seemed too extreme to most. The Left also proved remarkably adept at provoking university administrators to excessive reactions, arguably an important element in angering many and radicalizing some students. However, as Thomas emphasizes, the university rectors proved remarkably adept, in the longer run, at making symbolic but minimal concessions and preserving effective control of the university by the professoriate.

Another leitmotif of the protest movement that Thomas discusses was opposition to U.S. policy in the Vietnam War. West Germans in the 1950s had come to see the United States as the model of a just, democratic state. The spectacle of the most powerful nation on earth raining more bombs on small, impoverished Vietnam than on Nazi Germany, while intervening in what looked like a civil war, proved devastating to the reputation of the United States. As with university reform, the Left had an agenda, international anti-imperialist revolution, that most students and most West Germans did not share. Thomas is certainly right to point out how the war proved an emotionally powerful and effective organizing tool, but he could have explored this difference a bit more.

One of Thomas's main arguments is that the killing of Benno Ohnesorg by a policeman was the real turning point, what "changed the political landscape irrevocably," not the vaunted events of 1968. Certainly 1968 looms large in most accounts of the protest movements and of the 1960s in general--as numerous book titles and repeated discussion of the "'68ers" indicate. However, when the unarmed Ohnesorg, who had come simply to observe a demonstration against the Shah of Iran on June 2, 1967, fell victim to a policeman's bullet, political and media elites showed no remorse, seeking rather to libel him as some sort of communist subversive. Meanwhile, reports on the day's events showed that the police had reacted with gratuitous violence against basically peaceful demonstrators--and innocent bystanders. Many Germans feared that the police had become a vicious rogue element and that West German democracy was in danger of going the way of the Weimar Republic. Thomas can cite an opinion poll from immediately after the killing in which two-thirds of students said Ohnesorg's death had politically radicalized them.

Ohnesorg died in West Berlin, the epicenter of 1960s German protest. And even though protest at his death spread across West Germany, Thomas focuses on West Berlin in this as in other sections of his book, a choice that reflects a fundamental problem for analysis of protest movements, demonstrations, and democracy in West Germany. Even though West Berlin was not the capital of the country, it was the capital of protest--but an atypical one. Leftist students found West Berlin attractive because its residents were exempted from conscription. However, the West Berlin populace at large was vehemently anticommunist. They suffered brutally at the hands of the Red Army in 1945, and then became a beleaguered free island in a communist sea. The police force was unusually large and anticommunist, organized as a paramilitary force to defend the city in the event of war. Thomas focuses on West Berlin because it was the most important site of protest and because covering every city in West Germany would be an impossible task. Yet West Berlin's atypicality means historians will have to find a way to assess the scope and nature of protest in other West German cities before we can have an adequate understanding of the full range of protest in West Germany.

As Thomas points out, recent German history structured West Germans' responses throughout the 1960s. Governing and media elites as well as most West Germans looked at protesters and saw Nazis and Communists battling it out in the streets in the early 1930s, eroding Weimar democracy in the process. And they looked at demonstrators questioning various aspects of the postwar West German order and saw East Berlin agents, Communists subverting parliamentary democracy and the social market economy in order to replace them with a communist dictatorship. The protesters looked at the governing and media elites and saw innumerable former Nazis and a political order determined to defend itself, and the many inequities and iniquities it included, against any popular efforts to secure needed change. And they looked at elite efforts to establish a "democracy capable of defending itself" against the threat of subversion by totalitarians and saw elites themselves willing to subvert democracy from within with authoritarian policies. Thomas also notes repeatedly that both sides suffered from fears of "conspiracies" by their opponents to secure their goals. In retrospect we may find many of these fears grossly exaggerated. However, we need to be clear on why various individuals held such fears, given the background of German history.

The assassination attempt against activist and provocateur Rudi Dutschke brought simmering protester resentment of the Springer publishing empire to a boil. Even though Dutschke survived the attack, he never fully recovered from the bullets fired by a right-wing youth who confessed to reading the Springer Bild Zeitung and was acting in accord with what he thought the newspaper, and most West Germans, wanted. The Springer press had a dominating position in West German media, especially in Berlin, where it commanded 67 percent of the readership of all daily newspapers. It had consistently attacked the protesters as subversives determined to bring down West German democracy and indeed the entire social order. Convinced that the Springer press was a proto-totalitarian threat to democracy, protesters sought after the Dutschke assassination to physically block the distribution of Springer titles. They ultimately proved unsuccessful, but engaged in considerable violence, mostly against property, in the process. Their actions, perhaps understandable under the circumstances, still require a careful analysis to understand the differing conceptions of legitimate protest--among both protesters and the public.

Thomas spends a lot of time on the student protest movement. However, he focuses on the more radical elements among them, those who were certainly the most vocal and perhaps the most influential. These activists managed at several points to mobilize substantial portions of the student population in challenging the existing order. Yet they failed in most of their goals. We need to pursue more deeply who the activists were, socioeconomically, and where the weaknesses in their movement lay. We also need to understand just what their influence on future developments was. And we need to explore their relationship to non-student, non-youth opinion.

Thomas briefly discusses the "descent into terrorism." By 1969, it was clear that the Left could not turn widespread opposition to the Vietnam War into changes in West German, let alone American, foreign policy. Thomas ascribes this failure to the sectarianism of the Left and the fact that the Left was "increasingly talking to itself" (p. 161). A tiny fraction of the activist Left, frustrated by their movement's failure to secure broad support, resorted to violence to achieve their ends. They started with violence against property and moved eventually to violence against persons, something he sees as a "logical development" from earlier debates on the Left about violence (p. 201). The terrorists had very little support, even on the Left. And the government reacted with draconian measures, indeed with steps that called into question the democratic stability of the Federal Republic. One does have to ask, though, whether terrorists constituted a "movement." Thomas never defines the term, but one can well ask whether so tiny and socially marginal a group, even if politically influential in a perverse way, deserves to be discussed in connection with a term that certainly seems to imply some significant social base. And this discussion does highlight the need for a systematic analysis, in any investigation of protest movements, of just what might characterize protest movements.

Thomas closes with a discussion of the women's movement that began developing in the late 1960s. As elsewhere, the German movement grew out of dissatisfaction with the gap between the emancipatory and egalitarian rhetoric of the student movement and the continued denigration and marginalization of women within that movement. Conservatives had committed themselves in the 1950s to reestablishing the patriarchal family, as a bulwark against communism they continue to denounce "the '60s" as the cause of high divorce rates, etc. Thomas, though, emphasizes the social and economic roots of changes in women's situation and status and of the women's movement. The movement may have developed out of the protest culture of the '60s, but it reflected and responded to real changes.

The greatest gap in Thomas's book is his failure to address concretely how West Germany got from the vicious attacks on protest movements and demonstrations in the 1950s and 1960s to the political culture(s) of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s that accepted protest and demonstrations as a central part of democratic politics. If one did not know anything about recent German history, one would be stunned, after reading Thomas's vivid description of widespread popular repugnance at the student protesters, to learn that the Left won the 1969 elections and that demonstrations had become widely accepted by the early 1980s. Explaining how West Germans arrived at those results is obviously a complex problem, but it does deserve some consideration in any discussion of the protest movements of the 1960s. Still, Thomas has written a thoughtful and enlightening book, full of solid information and careful judgments. It is most certainly worthy of attention, as we work to make sense of a recent but crucial period in German history.

Citation: Michael L. Hughes. "Review of Nick Thomas, Protest Movements in 1960s West Germany: A Social History of Dissent and Democracy," H-German, H-Net Reviews, June, 2005. URL:

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White Trash: The 400-Year History of Class in America

Presented by Nancy Isenberg, Ph.D. The 35th Annual Portier Lecture: “White Trash: The 400-Year History of Class in America” Thursday, October 29, at 7:30​, at Byrne Memorial Hall Spring Hill College – Mobile, Alabama Nancy Isenberg is the T. Harry Williams Professor of History at Louisiana State University. She is the author of Madison and Jefferson, 2010, with Andrew Burstein Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr, 2007 and Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America, 1998. The Portier Lecture is the annual history lecture, named in honor of Bishop Michael Portier, the first bishop of Mobile, who founded Spring Hill College in 1830. This event was sponsored by the Spring Hill College Department of History. This video was produced in association with the Department of Communication Arts. Produced by J.L. Stevens II


White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (2016)

Nancy Isenberg

America’s Strange Breed

Two persistent problems have rumbled through our “democratic” past. One we can trace back to Franklin and Jefferson and their longing to dismiss class by touting “exceptional” features of the American landscape, which are deemed productive of an exceptional society. The founders insisted that the majestic continent would magically solve the demographic dilemma by reducing overpopulation and flattening out the class structure. In addition to this environmental solution, a larger, extremely useful myth arose: that America gave a voice to all of its people, that every citizen could exercise genuine influence over the government. (We should note that this myth was always qualified, because it was accepted that some citizens were more worthy than others—especially those whose stake in society came from property ownership.)

The British colonial imprint was never really erased either. The “yeoman” was a British class, reflecting the well-established English practice of equating moral worth to cultivation of the soil. For their part, nineteenth-century Americans did everything possible to replicate class station through marriage, kinship, pedigree, and lineage.

While the Confederacy was the high mark—the most overt manifestation—of rural aristocratic pretense (and an open embrace of society’s need to have an elite ruling over the lower classes), the next century ushered in the disturbing imperative of eugenics, availing itself of science to justify breeding a master class. Thus not only did Americans not abandon their desire for class distinctions, they repeatedly reinvented class distinctions. Once the government of the United States began portraying itself as “leader of the free world,” the longing for a more regal head of state was advanced. The Democrats swooned over Kennedy’s Camelot, and Republicans ennobled the Hollywood court of Reagan.

American democracy has never accorded all the people a meaningful voice. The masses have been given symbols instead, and they are often empty symbols. Nation-states traditionally rely on the fiction that a head of state can represent the body of the people and stand in as their proxy in the American version, the president must appeal broadly to shared values that mask the existence of deep class divisions. Even when this strategy works, though, unity comes at the price of perpetuating ideological deception. George Washington and Franklin Roosevelt were called fathers of the country, and are now treated as the kindly patriarchs of yore Andrew Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt descend to us as brash, tough-talking warriors. Cowboy symbols stand tall in the saddle and defend the national honor against an evil empire, as Reagan did so effectively more recently, the American people were witness to a president dressed in a pilot jumpsuit who for dramatic effect landed on an aircraft carrier. That, of course, was George W. Bush, as he prematurely proclaimed an end to combat operations in Iraq. Left out of our collective memory, meanwhile, are corporate puppet presidents such as William McKinley, who was in the pocket of Big Steel and a host of manufacturing interests. When presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012 responded to a heckler with the line, “Corporations are people, my friend,” he inadvertently became the new McKinley. The “1 percent” were his constituency, and wearing blue jeans did little to loosen his buttoned-up image.

Power (whether social, economic, or merely symbolic) is rarely probed. Or if it is, it never becomes so urgent a national imperative as to require an across-the-board resolution, simultaneously satisfying a moral imperative and pursuing a practical cause. We know, for instance, that Americans have forcefully resisted extending the right to vote those in power have disenfranchised blacks, women, and the poor in myriad ways. We know, too, that women historically have had fewer civil protections than corporations.

Instead of a thoroughgoing democracy, Americans have settled for democratic stagecraft: high-sounding rhetoric, magnified, and political leaders dressing down at barbecues or heading out to hunt game. They are seen wearing blue jeans, camouflage, cowboy hats, and Bubba caps, all in an effort to come across as ordinary people. But presidents and other national politicians are anything but ordinary people after they are elected. Disguising that fact is the real camouflage that distorts the actual class nature of state power.

The theatrical performances of politicians who profess to speak for an “American people” do nothing to highlight the history of poverty. The tenant farmer with his mule and plow is not a romantic image to retain in historic memory. But that individual is as much our history as any war that was fought and any election that was hotly contested. The tenant and his shack should remain with us as an enduring symbol of social stasis.

The underclass exists even when they don’t rise to the level of making trouble, fomenting rebellions, joining in riots, or fleeing the ranks of the Confederacy and hiding out in swamps, where they create an underground economy. Those who do not disappear into the wilderness are present in towns and cities and along paved and unpaved roads in every state. Seeing the poor, whether it is in the photographs of a Walker Evans or a Dorothea Lange, or in comical form on “reality TV,” we have to wonder how such people exist amid plenty.

As she cast her eyes upon southern trailer trash in the middle of World War II, the Washington Post columnist Agnes Meyer asked,

Yes, it is America. It is an essential part of American history. So too is the backlash that occurs when attempts are made to improve the conditions of the poor. Whether it is New Deal polices or LBJ’s welfare programs or Obama-era health care reform, along with any effort to address inequality and poverty comes a harsh and seemingly inevitable reaction. Angry citizens lash out: they perceive government bending over backward to help the poor (implied or stated: undeserving) and they accuse bureaucrats of wasteful spending that steals from hardworking men and women. This was Nixon’s class-inflected appeal, which his campaign staff packaged for the “Silent Majority.” In the larger scheme of things, the modern complaint against state intervention echoes the old English fear of social leveling, which was said to encourage the unproductive. In its later incarnation, government assistance is said to undermine the American dream. Wait. Undermine whose American dream?

Class defines how real people live. They don’t live the myth. They don’t live the dream. Politics is always about more than what is stated, or what looms before the eye. Even when it’s denied, politicians engage in class issues. The Civil War was a struggle to shore up both a racial and a class hierarchy. The Confederacy was afraid that poor whites would be drawn in by Union appeals and would vote to end slavery—because slavery was principally a reflection of the wealthy planters’ self-interest.

Today as well we have a large unbalanced electorate that is regularly convinced to vote against its collective self-interest. These people are told that East Coast college professors brainwash the young and that Hollywood liberals make fun of them and have nothing in common with them and hate America and wish to impose an abhorrent, godless lifestyle. The deceivers offer essentially the same fear-laden message that the majority of southern whites heard when secession was being weighed. Moved by the need for control, for an unchallenged top tier, the power elite in American history has thrived by placating the vulnerable and creating for them a false sense of identification—denying real class differences wherever possible.

The dangers inherent in that deception are many. The relative few who escape their lower-class roots are held up as models, as though everyone at the bottom has the same chance of succeeding through cleverness and hard work, through scrimping and saving. Can Franklin’s “nest egg” produce Franklin the self-made man? Hardly. Franklin himself needed patrons to rise in his colonial world, and the same rules of social networking persist. Personal connections, favoritism, and trading on class-based knowledge still grease the wheels that power social mobility in today’s professional and business worlds.

If this book accomplishes anything it will be to have exposed a number of myths about the American dream, to have disabused readers of the notion that upward mobility is a function of the founders’ ingenious plan, or that Jacksonian democracy was liberating, or that the Confederacy was about states’ rights rather than preserving class and racial distinctions. Sometimes, all it took was a name: before becoming known as a Reconstruction-era southern white who identified with black uplift or Republican reforms, the scalawag was defined as an inferior breed of cattle.

The scalawag of today is the southern liberal who is painted by conservative ideologues as a traitor to the South for daring to say that poor whites and poor blacks possess similar economic interests.

And that is how we return to the language of breeding, so well understood in an agrarian age, so metaphorically resonant in the preindustrial economy in which restrictive social relations hardened.

If the republic was supposedly dedicated to equality, how did the language of breeds appeal as it did?

To speak of breeds was to justify unequal status among white people it was the best way to divide people into categories and deny that class privilege exists.

If you are categorized as a breed, it means you can’t control who you are and you can’t avert your appointed destiny.

The erstwhile experts in this socially prescriptive field of study interpolated from the science and widespread practices of animal husbandry. The mongrel inherited its (or his or her) parent’s incapacities, they said, just as towheaded children with yellowish skin were produced through living on bad soil and inbreeding. In these ways, negative traits were passed on.

Scrubland produced a rascally herd of cattle—or people. Breeding determined who rose and who fell. The analogy between human and animal stock was ever present. As Jefferson wrote in 1787,

“The circumstance of superior beauty is thought worthy of attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals why not in that of man?”

Under a related form of logic, Manifest Destiny became a desirable means to open land routes and squeeze bad breeds out of the country, presumably through Mexico. In 1860, Daniel Hundley imagined that poor white trash would magically march right out of the United States.

The old English idea of colonization required that the poor had to be dumped somewhere. The population had to be drained, strained, or purged. The very same thinking fed social Darwinism and eugenics: if tainted women bred with regular people, they would undermine the quality of future stock. Either nature would weed out inferior stock or a human hand would have to intervene and engage in Galton’s notion of controlled breeding, sterilizing the curs and morons among the lowest ranks.

It was just as easy to ignore inequality by claiming that certain breeds could never be improved. As W. E. B. Du Bois explained in 1909, southern politicians were lost in the vacuity of illogic. They had fallen to arguing that any form of social intervention was pointless, because man could not repel nature’s force some races and classes were invariably stuck with their inferior mental and physical endowments. The South’s claim to be protecting the public good by endorsing the existing regime that rewarded the already privileged was inherently antidemocratic. Blaming nature for intractable breeds was just a way to rationalize indifference.

While President Reagan loved to invoke the image of the “City upon a Hill,” his critics were quick to point out that membership in that shining city was restricted, as much in the twentieth century as it had been in the seventeenth.

Under Reaganomics, tax rates for the moneyed class were drastically cut. Governor Mario Cuomo of New York related the problem in memorable fashion as keynote speaker at the 1984 Democratic National Convention:

“President Reagan told us from the beginning that he believed in a kind of Social Darwinism, survival of the fittest . . . [that] we should settle for taking care of the strong, and hope that economic ambition and charity will do the rest. Make the rich richer, and what falls from the table will be enough for the middle class and those who are trying desperately to work their way into the middle class.”

Cuomo’s stark language echoed Du Bois, his anti-Darwinian inflection a reminder of the mind-set that justified dividing stronger from weaker breeds. It wasn’t enough to preserve the status quo inequality could be expanded, the gap widened between classes, without incident and without tearing the social fabric.

In 2009, the 1 percent paid 5.2 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the poorest 20 percent paid 10.9 percent. States penalized the poor with impunity.1

Class has never been about income or financial worth alone. It has been fashioned in physical—and yes, bodily—terms. Dirty feet and tallow faces remain signs of delinquency and depravity. To live in a shack, a “hovel,” a “shebang,” or in Shedtown or in a trailer park, is to live in a place that never acquires the name of “home.” As transitional spaces, unsettled spaces, they contain occupants who lack the civic markers of stability, productivity, economic value, and human worth.

Job opportunities for all—the myth of full employment—is just that, a myth.

The economy cannot provide employment for everyone, a fact that is little acknowledged. In the sixteenth century, the English had their “reserve army of the poor” who were drummed into the military. Modern America’s reserve army of the poor are drummed into the worst jobs, the worst-paid positions, and provide the labor force that works in coal mines, cleans toilets and barn stalls, picks and plucks in fields as migrant laborers, or slaughters animals.

Waste people remain the “mudsills” who fill out the bottom layer of the labor pool on which society’s wealth rests. Poor whites are still taught to hate—but not to hate those who are keeping them in line.

Lyndon Johnson knew this when he quipped,

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

We are a country that imagines itself as democratic, and yet the majority has never cared much for equality. Because that’s not how breeding works. Heirs, pedigree, lineage: a pseudo-aristocracy of wealth still finds a way to assert its social power. We see how inherited wealth grants status without any guarantee of merit or talent.

To wit: would we know of Donald Trump, George W. Bush, Jesse Jackson Jr., or such Hollywood names as Charlie Sheen and Paris Hilton, except for the fact that these, and many others like them, had powerful, influential parents?

Even some men of recognized competence in national politics are products of nepotism: Albert Gore Jr., Rand Paul, Andrew Cuomo, and numerous Kennedys. We give children of the famous a big head start, deferring to them as rightful heirs, a modern-day version of the Puritans’ children of the Elect.

In Thomas Jefferson’s formulation, nature assigned classes. Nature demanded a natural aristocracy—what he termed an “accidental aristoi.” The spark of lust would direct the strong to breed with the strong, the “good and wise” to marry for beauty, health, virtue, and talents—traits that would be bred forward. One significant difference between Jefferson’s master class and the eugenicists of the early twentieth century was the former’s singular focus on the male making his selection, and the latter’s urging the middle-class woman to carefully inspect the pedigree of the man she hoped to marry.

Marriage has always been connected to class status: today’s online dating services are premised on the eugenic notion that a person can find the perfect match—a match presumed to be based on shared class and educational interests. In 2014–15, a series of television commercials for was sending the same message: that no “normal” middle-class applicant has to be stuck with a tawdry (i.e., lower-class) loser.

And as the historian Jill Lepore has pointed out in the New Yorker, the entrepreneurial Dr. Paul Popenoe began his career as a leading authority on eugenics, before moving on to marriage counseling, and eventually launching computer dating in 1956. Some dating services have been quite blatant: the website Good Genes promised to help “Ivy Leaguers” find potential spouses with “matching credentials,” by which was meant a similar class pedigree.2

The rule of nature was supposed to supplant artificial aristocracy with meritocracy. At the same time, though, it allowed people to associate human failures with different strains and inferior breeds, and to assign a certain inevitability to such failure. If, in this long-acceptable way of thinking, nature ruled, nature also needed a gardener. The human scrub grass had to be weeded from time to time.

That is why squatters were used as the first wave of settlers to encroach on Indian lands, then were chased off the land when the upscale farmers arrived in time, policing boundaries extended to segregation laws, and after that to zoning laws, separating the wheat from the chaff in the creation of modern suburbia. Class walls went up in the way property values were modulated in carefully planned towns and neighborhoods.

It was easy for nineteenth-century Americans to equate animals and humans. Stallions were like elite planters, and naturally given the best pastures the weak tackies, like white trash, lazed about the marshlands. While it is not discussed very often, our society still measures human worth by the value of the land people occupy and own. The urban ghettos, no less than the trailer parks on devalued land on the city’s edges, are modern representations of William Byrd’s Dismal Swamp: an unsafe, uncivilized wasteland that is allowed to fester and remain unproductive.

Location is everything. Location determines access to a privileged school, a safe neighborhood, infrastructural improvements, the best hospitals, the best grocery stores. Upper- and middle-class parents instruct their children in surviving their particular class environment. They give them the appropriate material resources toward this end. But let us devote more thought to what Henry Wallace wrote in 1936:

what would happen, he posed, if one hundred thousand poor children and one hundred thousand rich children were all given the same food, clothing, education, care, and protection? Class lines would likely disappear. This was the only conceivable way to eliminate class, he said—and what he didn’t say was that this would require removing children from their homes and raising them in a neutral, equitable environment. A dangerous idea indeed!

We have always relied—and still do—on bloodlines to maintain and pass on a class advantage to our children. Statistical measurement has shown convincingly that the best predictor of success is the class status of one’s forebears. Ironically, given the American Revolutionaries’ hatred for Old World aristocracies, Americans transfer wealth today in the fashion of those older societies, while modern European nations provide considerably more social services to their populations.

On average, Americans pass on 50 percent of their wealth to their children in Nordic countries, social mobility is much higher parents in Denmark give 15 percent of their total wealth to their children, and in Sweden parents give 27 percent. Class wealth and privileges are a more important inheritance (as a measure of potential) than actual genetic traits.3

Lest we relegate discredited ideas to the age in which they flourished, we can admit that eugenic thinking is not quite dead either. The poor can starve “a little,” says Charlotte Hays, and there are surely others who feel the same way. The innocuous-sounding term “fertility treatment” enables the wealthy to breed their own kind, buying sperm and eggs at “baby centers” around the country.

Abortion and birth control, meanwhile, are for evangelical conservatives a violation of God’s will that all people should be fruitful and multiply, and yet this same fear of unnatural methods of reproduction does not engender opposition to fertility clinics. Antiabortion activists, like eugenicists, think that the state has the right to intervene in the breeding habits of poor single women.

Poor women lost state-funded abortions during the Carter years, and today they are proscribed from using welfare funds to buy disposable diapers. To modern conservatives, women are first and foremost breeders. This was tellingly displayed during the Republican primary debates in 2012, when candidates boasted about the size of their families, each trying to outdo the last, as the camera panned across the podium. The Republicans were mimicking the pride of the winners of the “fitter family” contests held at county fairs in the early twentieth century. A reporter joked that Jon Huntsman’s and Mitt Romney’s children should breed, “creating a super-race of astonishingly beautiful Mormons.”

There remains in America a cultural desire to breed one’s “own kind.” As with the nepotistic practices that continue in a variety of fields, class is reproduced in ways that are not dissimilar to the past.4

Some things never change. More than one generation has deluded itself by buying into the notion of an American dream. A singular faith exists today that is known and embraced as American exceptionalism, but it dates back centuries to the projections made and policies put in place when the island nation of Great Britain began to settle the American continent. It was Richard Hakluyt’s fantastic literature that graduated to a broader colonial drive for continental domination. The same ideology fueled the theories of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson. (Meanwhile, London economist William Petty’s idea of political arithmetic gave force to a long fascination with demographic growth.) Teddy Roosevelt had a dream, too, of rewarding parents with large families, encouraging eugenically sound marriages, and recognizing the American as the healthiest member of the Anglo-Saxon family.

This brings us to the slavery/free labor corollary. It was James Oglethorpe in Georgia who first put into practice a sensitive and sensible idea: allowing slavery to thrive would retard economic opportunity and undermine social mobility for average white men and their families. In this way, racial dominance was intertwined with class dominance in the southern states, and the two could never be separated as long as a white ruling elite held sway over politics and rigged the economic system to benefit the few.

We now know, of course, that slavery and repression of Afro-American talent was tragically wrong. So why do we continue to ignore the pathological character of class-centered power relations as part of the American republic’s political inheritance? If the American dream were real, upward mobility would be far more in evidence.

Because there was never a free market in land, the past saw as much downward as upward mobility. Historically, Americans have confused social mobility with physical mobility. The class system tracked across the land with the so-called pioneering set. We need to acknowledge that fact. Generally, it was the all-powerful speculators who controlled the distribution of good land to the wealthy and forced the poor squatter off his land. Without a visible hand, markets did not at any time, and do not now, magically pave the way for the most talented to be rewarded the well-connected were and are preferentially treated.

Liberty is a revolving door, which explains the reality of downward mobility. The door ushers some in while it escorts others out into the cold. It certainly allows for, even encourages, exploitation. Through a process of rationalization, people have long tended to blame failure on the personal flaws of individuals—this has been the convenient refrain of Republicans in Congress in the second decade of the twenty-first century, when former Speaker of the House John Boehner publicly equated joblessness with personal laziness. Another former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, captured headlines at the end of 2011 when he seemed ready to endorse Jefferson’s Revolutionary-era solution to poverty by making schools into workhouses. Gingrich:

“You have a very poor neighborhood. You have students that are required to go to school. They have no money, no habit of work. . . . What if they became assistant janitors, and their job was to mop the floor and clean the bathroom?”

It was only in the midst of the Great Depression that the country fully appreciated the meaning of downward mobility. At that time, when a quarter of the nation was thrown out of work, the old standby of blaming the individual no longer convinced anyone.5

For the most part, daily injustices in average people’s lives go ignored. But that does not mean that poor people are numb to the condition of their own lives. Politicians have been willfully blind to many social problems. Pretending that America has grown rich as a largely classless society is bad history, to say the least.

The “1 percent” is the most recently adopted shorthand for moneyed monopoly, bringing attention to the ills generated by consolidated power, but the phenomenon it describes is not new.

Class separation is and has always been at the center of our political debates, despite every attempt to hide social reality with deceptive rhetoric. The white poor have been with us in various guises, as the names they have been given across centuries attest:

They are blamed for living on bad land, as though they had other choices. From the beginning, they have existed in the minds of rural or urban elites and the middle class as extrusions of the weedy, unproductive soil.

They are depicted as slothful, rootless vagrants, physically scarred by their poverty. The worst ate clay and turned yellow, wallowed in mud and muck, and their necks became burned by the hot sun. Their poorly clothed, poorly fed children generated what others believed to be a permanent and defective breed.

That comes from cramped quarters in obscure retreats, distant from civilization, where the moral vocabulary that dwells in town has been lost. We think of the left-behind groups as extinct, and the present as a time of advanced thought and sensibility. But today’s trailer trash are merely yesterday’s vagrants on wheels, an updated version of Okies in jalopies and Florida crackers in their carts.

They are renamed often, but they do not disappear. Our very identity as a nation, no matter what we tell ourselves, is intimately tied up with the dispossessed. We are, then, not only preoccupied with race, as we know we are, but with good and bad breeds as well. It is for good reason that we have this preoccupation: by calling America not just “a” land of opportunity but “the” land of opportunity, we collectively have made a promise to posterity that there will always exist the real potential of self-propulsion upward.

Those who fail to rise in America are a crucial part of who we are as a civilization. A cruel irony is to be found in the aftermath of the Hollywood film Deliverance, a gruesome adventure that exploited the worst stereotypes of white trash and ignored the poverty that existed in the part of the country where the movie was made. One actor stands out who was not a trained actor at all: Billy Redden. He played the iconic inbred character who sat strumming the banjo. He was fifteen when he was plucked from a local Rabun County, Georgia, school by the filmmakers because of his odd look (enhanced with makeup). He didn’t play the banjo, so a musician fingered from behind, and the cameraman did the rest. Interviewed in 2012 to mark the fortieth anniversary of the film, Billy said he wasn’t paid much for his role. Otherwise, the fifty-six-year-old said, “I wouldn’t be working at Wal-Mart right now. And I’m struggling really hard to make ends meet.”6

The discomfort middle-class Americans feel when forced to acknowledge the existence of poverty highlights the disconnect between image and reality. It seems clear that we have made little progress since James Agee exposed the world of poor sharecroppers in 1941. We still today are blind to the “cruel radiance of what is.” The static rural experience is augmented by the persistence of class-inflected tropes and the voyeuristic shock in televised portraits of degenerate beings and wasted lives in the richest country that has ever existed. And what of Billy Redden? In 1972, a country boy was made up to fit a stereotype of the retarded hillbilly, the idiot savant. Today his mundane struggle to survive can satisfy no one’s expectations, because his story is ordinary. He is neither eccentric nor perverse. Nor does he don a scraggly beard, wear a bandana, or hunt gators. He is simply one of the hundreds of thousands of faceless employees who work at a Wal-Mart.

White trash is a central, if disturbing, thread in our national narrative. The very existence of such people—both in their visibility and invisibility—is proof that American society obsesses over the mutable labels we give to the neighbors we wish not to notice. “They are not who we are.” But they are who we are and have been a fundamental part of our history, whether we like it or not.

The Forgotten Slaves: Whites in Servitude in Early America and Industrial Britain

“When I was a boy, ‘recalled Waters McIntosh, who had been a slave in Sumter, South Carolina, ‘we used to sing, ‘Rather be a nigger than a poor White Man,’ Even in slavery we used to sing that.’ Mr. McIntosh’s remarks reveal…that the poor whites of the South ranked below blacks in social standing…slaves felt unbridled contempt for lower‑class whites…Frederick Douglas opened his famous Life and Times with an account of Talbot County, Maryland, which he said housed a ‘White population of the lowest order…

Throughout the South the slaves of many of the larger planters lived in a society of blacks and well‑to‑do Whites and were encouraged to view even respectable laboring Whites with disdain…Ella Kelly, who had been a slave in South Carolina…You know, boss, dese days dere is three kind of people. Lowest down Is a Layer of White Folks, then in de middle is a layer of colored folks, and on top is de cream, a layer of good White folks…

The Forgotten Slaves: Whites in Servitude in Early America and Industrial Britain

by Michael A. Hoffman II ©Copyright 1999. All Rights Reserved

Two years ago, Prime Minister Paul Keating of Australia refused to show “proper respect” to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II during her state visit. In response, Terry Dicks, a Conservative member of the British Parliament said, “It’s a country of ex-convicts, so we should not be surprised by the rudeness of their prime minister.”

A slur such as this would be considered unthinkable if it were uttered against any other class or race of people except the descendants of White slavery. Dicks’ remark is not only offensive, it is ignorant and false. Most of Australia’s “convicts” were shipped into servitude for such “crimes” as stealing seven yards of lace, cutting trees on an aristocrat’s estate or poaching sheep to feed a starving family.

The arrogant disregard for the holocaust visited upon the poor and working class Whites of Britain by the aristocracy continues in our time because the history of that epoch has been almost completely extirpated from our collective memory.

When White servitude is acknowledged as having existed in America, it is almost always termed as temporary “indentured servitude” or part of the convict trade, which, after the Revolution of 1776, centered on Australia instead of America. The “convicts” transported to America under the 1723 Waltham Act, perhaps numbered 100,000.

The indentured servants who served a tidy little period of 4 to 7 years polishing the master’s silver and china and then taking their place in colonial high society, were a minuscule fraction of the great unsung hundreds of thousands of White slaves who were worked to death in this country from the early l7th century onward.

Up to one-half of all the arrivals in the American colonies were Whites slaves and they were America’s first slaves. These Whites were slaves for life, long before Blacks ever were. This slavery was even hereditary. White children born to White slaves were enslaved too.

Whites were auctioned on the block with children sold and separated from their parents and wives sold and separated from their husbands. Free Black property owners strutted the streets of northern and southern American cities while White slaves were worked to death in the sugar mills of Barbados and Jamaica and the plantations of Virginia.

The Establishment has created the misnomer of “indentured servitude” to explain away and minimize the fact of White slavery. But bound Whites in early America called themselves slaves. Nine-tenths of the White slavery in America was conducted without indentures of any kind but according to the so-called “custom of the country,” as it was known, which was lifetime slavery administered by the White slave merchants themselves.

In George Sandys laws for Virginia, Whites were enslaved “forever.” The service of Whites bound to Berkeley’s Hundred was deemed “perpetual.” These accounts have been policed out of the much touted “standard reference works” such as Abbott Emerson Smith’s laughable whitewash, Colonists in Bondage.

I challenge any researcher to study 17th century colonial America, sifting the documents, the jargon and the statutes on both sides of the Atlantic and one will discover that White slavery was a far more extensive operation than Black enslavement. It is when we come to the 18th century that one begins to encounter more “servitude” on the basis of a contract of indenture. But even in that period there was kidnapping of Anglo-Saxons into slavery as well as convict slavery.

In 1855, Frederic Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who designed New York’s Central Park, was in Alabama on a pleasure trip and saw bales of cotton being thrown from a considerable height into a cargo ship’s hold. The men tossing the bales somewhat recklessly into the hold were Negroes, the men in the hold were Irish.

Olmsted inquired about this to a shipworker. “Oh,” said the worker, “the niggers are worth too much to be risked here if the Paddies are knocked overboard or get their backs broke, nobody loses anything.”

Before British slavers traveled to Africa’s western coast to buy Black slaves from African chieftains, they sold their own White working class kindred (“the surplus poor” as they were known) from the streets and towns of England, into slavery. Tens of thousands of these White slaves were kidnapped children. In fact the very origin of the word kidnapped is kid-nabbed, the stealing of White children for enslavement.

According to the English Dictionary of the Underworld, under the heading kidnapper is the following definition: “A stealer of human beings, esp. of children originally for exportation to the plantations of North America.”

The center of the trade in child-slaves was in the port cities of Britain and Scotland:

“Press gangs in the hire of local merchants roamed the streets, seizing ‘by force such boys as seemed proper subjects for the slave trade.’ Children were driven in flocks through the town and confined for shipment in barns…So flagrant was the practice that people in the countryside about Aberdeen avoided bringing children into the city for fear they might be stolen and so widespread was the collusion of merchants, shippers, suppliers and even magistrates that the man who exposed it was forced to recant and run out of town.” (Van der Zee, Bound Over, p. 210).

White slaves transported to the colonies suffered a staggering loss of life in the 17th and 18th century. During the voyage to America it was customary to keep the White slaves below deck for the entire nine to twelve week journey. A White slave would be confined to a hole not more than sixteen feet long, chained with 50 other men to a board, with padlocked collars around their necks. The weeks of confinement below deck in the ship’s stifling hold often resulted in outbreaks of contagious disease which would sweep through the “cargo” of White “freight” chained in the bowels of the ship.

Ships carrying White slaves to America often lost half their slaves to death. According to historian Sharon V. Salinger, “Scattered data reveal that the mortality for [White] servants at certain times equaled that for [Black] slaves in the ‘middle passage,’ and during other periods actually exceeded the death rate for [Black] slaves.” Salinger reports a death rate of ten to twenty percent over the entire 18th century for Black slaves on board ships enroute to America compared with a death rate of 25% for White slaves enroute to America.

Foster R. Dulles writing in Labor in America: A History, states that whether convicts, children ‘spirited’ from the countryside or political prisoners, White slaves “experienced discomforts and sufferings on their voyage across the Atlantic that paralleled the cruel hardships undergone by negro slaves on the notorious Middle Passage.”

Dulles says the Whites were “indiscriminately herded aboard the ‘white guineamen,’ often as many as 300 passengers on little vessels of not more than 200 tons burden–overcrowded, unsanitary…The mortality rate was sometimes as high as 50% and young children seldom survived the horrors of a voyage which might last anywhere from seven to twelve weeks.”

Independent investigator A.B. Ellis in the Argosy writes concerning the transport of White slaves, “The human cargo, many of whom were still tormented by unhealed wounds, could not all lie down at once without lying on each other. They were never suffered to go on deck. The hatchway was constantly watched by sentinels armed with hangers and blunder busses. In the dungeons below all was darkness, stench, lamentation, disease and death.”

Marcus Jernegan describes the greed of the shipmasters which led to horrendous loss of life for White slaves transported to America:

“The voyage over often repeated the horrors of the famous ‘middle passage’ of slavery fame. An average cargo was three hundred, but the shipmaster, for greater profit, would sometimes crowd as many as six hundred into a small vessel…The mortality under such circumstances was tremendous, sometimes more than half…Mittelberger (an eyewitness) says he saw thirty-two children thrown into the ocean during one voyage.”

“The mercantile firms, as importers of (White) servants, were not too careful about their treatment, as the more important purpose of the transaction was to get ships over to South Carolina which could carry local produce back to Europe. Consequently the Irish–as well as others–suffered greatly…

“It was almost as if the British merchants had redirected their vessels from the African coast to the Irish coast, with the white servants coming over in much the same fashion as the African slaves.” (Warren B. Smith, White Servitude in Colonial South Carolina).

A study of the middle passage of White slaves was included in a Parliamentary Petition of 1659. It reported that White slaves were locked below deck for two weeks while the slaveship was still in port. Once under way, they were “all the way locked up under decks…amongst horses.” They were chained from their legs to their necks.

Those academics who insist that slavery is an exclusively Black racial condition forget or deliberately omit the fact that the word slave originally was a reference to Whites of East European origin – “Slavs.”

Moreover, in the 18th century in Britain and America, the Industrial Revolution spawned the factory system whose first laborers were miserably oppressed White children as young as six years of age. They were locked in the factories for sixteen hours a day and mangled by the primitive machinery. Hands and arms were regularly ripped to pieces. Little girls often had their hair caught in the machinery and were scalped from their foreheads to the back of their necks.

White Children wounded and crippled in the factories were turned out without compensation of any kind and left to die of their injuries. Children late to work or who fell asleep were beaten with iron bars. Lest we imagine these horrors were limited to only the early years of the Industrial Revolution, eight and ten year old White children throughout America were hard at work in miserable factories and mines as late as 1920.

Because of the rank prostitution, stupidity and cowardice of America’s teachers and educational system, White youth are taught that Black slaves, Mexican peons and Chinese coolies built this country while the vast majority of the Whites lorded it over them with a lash in one hand and a mint julep in the other.

The documentary record tells a very different story, however. When White Congressman David Wilmot authored the Wilmot Proviso to keep Black slaves out of the American West he did so, he said, to preserve that vast expanse of territory for “the sons of toil, my own race and color.”

This is precisely what most White people in America were, “sons of toil,” performing backbreaking labor such as few of us today can envision. They had no paternalistic welfare system no Freedman’s Bureau to coo sweet platitudes to them no army of bleeding hearts to worry over their hardships. These Whites were the expendable frontline soldiers in the expansion of the American frontier. They won the country, felled the trees, cleared and planted the land.

The wealthy, educated White elite in America are the sick heirs of what Charles Dickens in Bleak House termed “telescopic philanthropy”–the concern for the condition of distant peoples while the plight of kindred in one’s own backyard are ignored.

Today much of what we see on “Turner Television” and Pat Robertson’s misnamed “Family Channel,” are TV films depicting Blacks in chains, Blacks being whipped, Blacks oppressed. Nowhere can we find a cinematic chronicle of the Whites who were beaten and killed in White slavery. Four-fifths of the White slaves sent to Britain’s sugar colonies in the West Indies did not survive their first year.

Soldiers in the American Revolution and sailors impressed into the American navy received upwards of two hundred whiplashes for minor infractions. But no TV show lifts the shirt of this White yeoman to reveal the scars on their backs.

The Establishment would rather weep over the poor persecuted Negroes, but leave the White working class “rednecks” and “crackers” (both of these terms of derision were first applied to White slaves), to live next door to the Blacks.

Little has changed since the early 1800s when the men of property and station of the English Parliament outlawed Black slavery throughout the Empire. While this Parliament was in session to enact this law, ragged five year old White orphan boys, beaten, starved and whipped, were being forced up the chimneys of the English parliament, to clean them. Sometimes the chimney masonry collapsed on these boys. Other times they suffocated to death inside their narrow smoke channels.

Long after Blacks were free throughout the British Empire, the British House of Lords refused to abolish chimney-sweeping by White children under the age of ten. The Lords contended that to do so would interfere with “property rights.” The lives of the White children were not worth a farthing and were considered no subject for humanitarian concern.

The chronicle of White slavery in America comprises the dustiest shelf in the darkest corner of suppressed American history. Should the truth about that epoch ever emerge into the public consciousness of Americans, the whole basis for the swindle of “Affirmative action,” “minority set-asides” and proposed “Reparations to African-Americans” will be swept away. The fact is, the White working people of this country owe no one. They are themselves the descendants, as Congressman Wilmot so aptly said, of “the sons of toil.”

There will only be racial peace when knowledge of radical historical truths are widespread and both sides negotiate from positions of strength and not from fantasies of White working class guilt and the uniqueness of Black suffering.

Let it be said, in many cases Blacks in slavery had it better than poor Whites in the antebellum South. This is why there was such strong resistance to the Confederacy in the poverty-stricken areas of the mountain south, such as Winston County in Alabama and the Beech mountains of North Carolina. Those poor Whites could not imagine why any White laborer would want to die for the slave-owning plutocracy that more often than not, gave better care and attention to their Black servants than they did to the free white labor they scorned as “trash.”

To this day, the White ruling class denigrates the White poor and patronizes Blacks.

If this seems admirable from the pathological viewpoint of Marxism or cosmopolitan liberalism, the Black and Third World “beneficiaries” of White ruling class “esteem” ought to consider what sort of “friends” they actually have.

The Bible declares that the man who does not take care of his own family is “worse than an infidel.” This also applies to one’s racial kindred. The man who neglects his own children to care for yours has true love for neither.

White, self-hating liberals and greed-head conservatives who claim to care for the “civil rights” of Black and Third World people, discard the working class of their own people on the garbage heap of history. When they are finished with their own they shall surely turn on others.

Those who care for their own kind first are not practicing “hate” but kindness, which is the very root of the word.

Michael A. Hoffman II is the author of

“They Were White and They Were Slaves: The Untold History of the Enslavement of Whites in Early America and Industrial Britain”.

Published in 18th–19th – Century History, Features, Issue 2 (Summer 1993), The Famine, Volume 1

The widespread use of Punch cartoons in books and teaching materials on nineteenth century history is hardly surprising: these often striking images are a convenient visual aid for understanding a period in which photography was in its infancy. Yet the use of this graphic record in an unreflective manner is fraught with difficulties and may detract from the material’s historical usefulness. Several illustrated texts, and at least one academic account of the Great Famine of 1845-50, have been guilty of this unimaginative use of sources, and consequently can be accused of having missed the point of the illustrations. The historical significance of Punch in the later 1840s lay as much in its aspiration and ability to mould public perceptions of events, as in its satiric commentaries on those events. The paper provided no direct record of the mass sufferings of the Irish peasantry (in contrast to the Illustrated London News’ graphic depictions), but Irish affairs occupied many of its pages in the famine years. Perhaps its greatest importance to the historian is as a simultaneous shaper and expression of British public opinion – a phenomenon vital to our understanding of the Famine as a whole.

Considerable political weight

Founded in 1841, Punch sought to establish a new style of humorous journalism, more tasteful and restrained than the savage caricatures of Gillray and Cruikshank, but also more serious and campaigning than its comic rivals. From the start, it had a moralistic cutting edge, derived from its radical founders, Henry Mayhew and Douglas Jerrold. Even its more conservative contributors believed that humour should be about more than mere laughter. The novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, a regular writer from 1843 to 1854, expressed the view that humour ought:

‘to awaken and direct your love, your pity, your kindness your scorn of untruth, pretension, imposture your tenderness for the weak, the poor, the oppressed, the unhappy’. This was indeed the mission of the early Punch which led philanthropic assaults on sweated labour, poor law abuses, and terrible urban conditions. The paper’s radicalism was, however, distinctly middle- class in tone while critical of Chartism, it threw itself whole-heartedly behind the free trade and financial reform movements. Already by the late 1840s, it was beginning a transition to the more complacent conservative stance it would adopt as a patriotic national institution in the mid-Victorian ‘age of equipoise’.

Punch’s political weight was considerable. Its circulation, at around 30,000, was below that of many other journals and was largely concentrated in London, but it reached many metropolitan opinion-formers who set the tone of British middle-class attitudes as expressed nationally. It was read by politicians, and several cabinet ministers commented on its pronouncements in their private diaries. Most importantly, Punch existed as part of a network of similarly- oriented journals. Its authors were keen to take their line on public affairs largely from The Times, by far the most influential newspaper of the day. Indeed one contributor, Gilbert a Beckett, was simultaneously a leader writer for both The Times and The Illustrated London News. The power of these three papers taken together was considerable – each complemented the other by focusing on a different aspect of middle-class taste. This was all the more true in a period of party flux, weak governments, and a national radical middle-class mobilisation. Punch had a history of broad sympathy for the plight of Ireland, mixed with a mocking hostility towards Daniel O’Connell and the Repeal movement. In the early stages of the famine catastrophe, O’Connell was attacked for his alleged greed in collecting the ‘Repeal rent’ from the starving poor and for misleading his ignorant followers as to their real interests.

[The Real Potato Blight of Ireland, 13 December 1845]

Attention was thus directed away from the realities of the socio-economic crisis, to what were regarded in Britain as the ludicrous and seditious political antics of the Irish. Political and moral factors were to be relentlessly harped upon in the subsequent years as the true causes of Irish distress. While ‘Hibernia’ could be treated sympathetically as a feminised abstract, and her ‘Haughty Sisters, Britannia and Caledonia’ upbraided for their self-satisfied aloofness [The Irish Cinderella, 25 April 1846], Punch regarded the Famine more as an opportunity to ‘conquer’ Ireland ‘by food and education’, than as a case for simple charity. The excessive luxuries of the rich in Britain were a target more conducive to radical (and indeed evangelical) criticism than an inadequate relief policy.

Providence and the potato

The paper mocked the antiCatholic interpretations of famine causation proposed by ultra-Protestants, but it did not rule out the hand of God. Indeed it implicitly gave credence to those providentialist views which saw the potato blight as a means of replacing ‘backward’ potatoes (and the social system their cultivation supported) with more ‘civilised’ foodstuffs. It agreed with The Times that ‘Providence, which made us and the land we till, evidently intended another subsistence’ than the potato, that ‘most precarious of crops and meanest of foods’.

Ministers agreed that the introduction of cheap imported grain would transform the Irish character. Edward Cardwell argued:

If while they diffused among [the Irish] a taste for a higher kind of food, they could also introduce amongst them habits of industry and improvement calculated to furnish them with the means of procuring that higher food, they would be effecting one of the greatest practical improvements which this country was capable of accomplishing. This policy necessitated a strict adherence to free trade in food and bound up Ireland’s fate with the repeal of the corn laws.

From autumn 1846. British governments adopted a bi-partisan policy of minimal interference in the food trade. The collapse in the price of imported Indian meal the following summer appeared to vindicate this free trade dogma but this was of little consolation to the hundreds of thousands who perished in the winter of 1846-7. The social costs of that year blunted but did not change the moralistic British critique of potato subsistence Punch prematurely welcomed the apparent restoration of the potato to health in autumn 1847 (it failed again in 1848 and 1849) but only as a subsidiary to cheap bread. [Consolation for the Million: The Loaf and the Potato, 11September 1847]

Like Sir Charles Trevelyan, the assistant Secretary to the Treasury, Punch regarded the continuation of famine conditions in Ireland after this time as entirely due to indigenous moral and not biological failures. Ireland had been warned of the folly of potato dependence by a ‘natural’ disaster, but had perversely chosen to ignore the danger no further responsibility could be undertaken by the ‘imperial’ government.

Irish property, Irish poverty

The relief of famine distress was bound up with ideological considerations. In the cartoon Union is Strength (17 October 1846), John Bull, the epitome of Englishness, presents his Irish ‘brother’ not only with food, but with a spade – to put him ‘in a way to earn your own living’. In the light of modern conceptions of the importance of development aid, the offer appears sensible but it must be understood in the light of the popularised versions of political economy current at the time. Thomas Campbell Foster’s analysis of the ‘Condition of the People of Ireland’, serialised by The Times in 1845-6, had stressed the essential fertility of Ireland and placed the blame for its backwardness on ignorance and a lack of enterprise. The idea that wealth could be created by industrious exertion alone (capital being merely ‘accumulated labour’) acquired considerable popularity. There was also a widespread belief, shared by some ministers, that Ireland possessed sufficient surplus in its ‘wages-fund’ to support its current population, if only this was diverted from landlord extravagance to productive use.

While Punch acknowledged that the scale of the 1846-7 crisis necessitated some assistance, and rejected the crude Malthusianism of Lord Radnor, this feeling continued to lie at the root of its perceptions. With The Times, it advocated the early introduction of a permanent extended Irish poor law, which would make Irish property support Irish poverty. This ‘very bitter pill’, strictly administered as a moral spur to self-reliance on the part of all Irish classes, proved popular in Britain.

By May 1847 Punch, was advocating total reliance on the government’s new poor law and leaving Ireland to ‘shift for herself for a year’. Two developments were cited for hardening Punch’s (and by extension, British public opinion’s) heart against Ireland. Both centred on the theme of Irish ‘ingratitude’. Within two months of ‘Union is Strength’, Punch had decided that the Irish were rejecting the proffered spade and relapsing into atavistic violence. In Height of Impudence (12 December 1846), John Bull is accosted by an Irishman begging alms to buy a ‘blunderbuss’. In contrast to the earlier cartoon, the Irishman is no longer ‘brother’, but bears the simianised features that were to become so familiar to Punch’s readers in later years. To some extent this shift reflected the views of the individual cartoonists ‘Union is Strength’ was drawn by Richard Doyle, a Catholic and of Irish descent (although as strongly anti-Repeal as his father, John Doyle of Political Sketches fame). ‘Height of Impudence’ was by John Leech, Punch’s regular cartoonist in these years, and a man whose betes noires featured ‘Italian organ-grinders, Frenchmen and Hebrews’ as well as the Irish. The anthropological theories of ‘Celtic’ degeneracy which informed such stereotypes of ‘Paddy’ were by no means universally accepted in 1840s Britain, but were mobilised forcefully for specific purposes in Punch and The Times. This transition period between the dominance of environmentalism and racialism as the leading discourse regarding Ireland was particularly disadvantageous to the country: while brute enough to require coercion, the Irish were seen as sufficiently ‘normal’ to be expected to exhibit self-reliance, and were denied the paternalistic relief later doled out by Dublin Castle in the subsistence crises of the 1880s and 1890s. Punch came to support strict coercion of Ireland, the suppression of agrarian agitation, and the imprisonment of troublesome priests. Yet in line with its radical leanings, it expressed little sympathy for Irish landlords, who were depicted as ready to rob John Bull to line their own pockets and subsidise a lifestyle of cowardly absenteeism. The paper showed no sympathy for the developing campaign for tenant right, but – in the wake of The Times – moved towards advocating more drastic treatment of the Irish of all classes.

The second development increasing British antagonism was the growing political instability of Ireland. ‘Union is Strength’ had suggested an optimistic outlook on Anglo-Irish relations, and Punch had gloated at Daniel O’Connell’s apparent renunciation of Repeal and request for greater British aid shortly before his death in 1847. In this context, the increasingly vociferous militancy of the Young Irelanders provoked outrage and a further denunciation of the Irish as a whole. Leech went the full way with the simian stereotype by portraying the movement’s most extreme leader, John Mitchel, as a monkey – at once comic and dangerously incendiary – threatening a magisterial and contemptuous British lion. [The British Lion and the Irish Monkey, 8 April 1848] In the wake of the abortive 1848 rising, Punch returned repeatedly to the theme of inveterate Irish barbarity and ingratitude. Agrarian unrest and political rebellion were rolled together (in a manner which Fintan Lalor and Mitchel would have envied had they been so in reality), and images of famine-related suffering were ignored. British policy appeared incapable of ameliorating the situation through conciliation. In Alfred the Small (16 September 1848), the Prime Minister, Lord John Russell, is pictured visiting Ireland, only to find the primitive natives immersed in violence and idolatrously worshipping the totems of Repeal.

Thackeray: Hibernis Hibernior

If Punch ‘s main political thrust lay in its chief cartoon – the subject of which was decided weekly by the principal contributors – the paper was always more than its ‘big cut’. It carried numerous one-liners, squibs and articles on Irish subjects, as well as pieces of more sustained satire in verse and prose.

W.M. Thackeray was the source of the bulk of its Irish pieces in these years. His Irish Sketch Book (1843), an impressionistic but largely critical account of an Irish visit, had proved a great success in England (not least for its strident anti-Catholicism). It was on the strength of this that he emerged as Punch’s Irish expert, often under the pseudonym ‘Hibernis Hibernior’, In ‘Mr Punch for Repeal’ (26 February 1848) Thackeray declared that he had made a personal contribution of £5 to the British Association relief fund in early 1847, but as reasons for giving no more, went on to cite the support of certain Catholic clerics for the tenant movement (which Thackeray interpreted as a murderous conspiracy), and John O’Connell’s criticism of the British state and press for failing to come to terms with the continuation of the famine. This clearly echoed the mood of British public opinion, for a second charitable appeal in October 1847 had proved an unpopular flop and no further substantial sums were raised. Thackeray also took up the cry for ‘Repeal’ in an ironic sense, as a means of protecting England from further Irish mendicancy. These themes were reiterated in the ‘Letters to a nobleman visiting Ireland’ (2 and 9 September 1848), in which Lord John Russell was upbraided for his previous political connections with the O’Connells, and Irish poverty was attributed to Irish wrong-headedness.

Manipulating British public opinion

Punch regularly criticised Russell for having no Irish policy, but also staunchly opposed government expenditure in Ireland. In the wake of the financial crisis of autumn 1847, British industry and commerce underwent a period of depression: middle-class radicals responded by crusading against taxation and landlord privileges. The general election of 1847 gave a group of about 85 radicals, led by Cobden, Bright and Hume, the parliamentary balance of power. Both Russell and Lord Lieutenant Clarendon were aware of the vital need for increased relief, development and emigration assistance spending in Ireland but they failed to make headway, faced with ideological hostility from the advocates of ‘natural causes’ within the government and strenuous resistance from the commons.

Punch expressed glee when Russell was forced to withdraw a proposed increase in the British income tax in his 1848 budget, and then outrage at every concession extracted to meet the extensive distress of the west of Ireland in 1848-9. Every loan to the ungrateful Irish, however small, was denounced as an additional burden on England’s respectable poor. [The English Labourer’s Burden, 24 February 1849] It was indicative of just how deeply divided the Whig-liberal cabinet was that such irresponsible press statements were welcomed and encouraged by some ministers. From late 1846 Charles Wood, Chancellor of the Exchequer, sought to undermine relief expenditure by stimulating a British backlash against the ‘monstrous machine’ of public works. He, Trevelyan and Colonial Secretary Lord Grey had close connections with Delane of The Times and exploited these for political ends.

By autumn 1848, a broad swathe of British opinion was convinced that mass starvation was inevitable in Ireland, and should not be prevented. The diarist Charles Greville noted that the prevailing sense in London was ‘disgust … at the state of Ireland and the incurable madness of the people’. The press had done much to create this perception. The Prime Minister was obliged to admit that it was less the ‘crude Trevelyanism’ of his subordinates than feelings lying ‘deep in the breasts of the British people’ that had made substantive intervention impossible.

As if exhausted or secretly embarrassed by its sustained hostility during a period of acute suffering and mass mortality, Punch sought for signs of hope in 1849. Two events were highlighted. The ‘new plantation’ scheme proposed by elder statesman Sir Robert Peel was warmly welcomed. Peel suggested a commission with sweeping powers over the west of

Ireland that would pave the way for ‘new proprietors who shall take possession of the land of Ireland, freed from its present encumbrances, and enter into its cultivation with adequate capital, with new feelings, and inspired by new hopes’. Richard Doyle pictured Peel as ‘The New St Patrick’, driving the reptiles of ‘destitution’, ‘mortgages’ (depicted by a Jewish stereotype) and ‘famine’ out of Ireland. Leech welcomed Peel’s ‘panacea’ of ‘the sale of encumbered estates’ as the cure to Russell’s ‘dreadful Irish toothache’. The idea of a British economic ‘colonisation’, reclaiming the bogs of Connacht for civilisation, appealed strongly to the paper, and a mass removal of the ‘biped livestock’ by clearance and emigration was welcomed.

[A Parallel between Peel and Caesar, 28 April 1849]

Yet, like The Times, its support was primarily for ‘free trade in land’ rather than full-scale government intervention. Peel had advocated relaxation of the poor law and increased state investment, but moralist opinion remained adamantly opposed. The second event was the Queen’s visit to Ireland in August 1849. The unifying mystique of the monarchy was sufficient for Punch to restore the image of a poor but welcoming ‘Hibernia’, and to transform the threatening ‘Paddy’ into the comically harmless ‘Sir Patrick Raleigh’.

[Landing of Queen Victoria in Ireland, August 1849]

Punch put its faith in the royal visit as the most efficacious mode of anglicising the country and its people, imagining an Ireland of the future built on the suppression of its past: Let Erin look forward with faith sublime, Forgetting the days that are over And allow the stream of a brighter time In oblivion the past to cover. [Ireland – a Dream of the Future, Sept. 1849]

This was wishful thinking, and the flood of private and corporate investment expected in the wake of the Queen’s visit failed to materialise. Plans by the City of London corporation to purchase large tracts of Connacht also fell through.

Punch’s vision of Irish prosperity arising simply from self-exertion – ‘new’ proprietors were primarily to provide entrepreneurial values rather than cash – proved illusory. Yet such was the depth of early Victorian liberal optimism that it refused to abandon the image of creating plenty through the application of industry to peat. [The New Irish Still, August 1849J The idea would be ludicrous, were it not for the fact that this illusion, and the moralistic outrage directed against the Irish when it was not realised, underlay the response not only of Punch, but of the dominant strand of British public opinion, to the Great Famine. The specific political circumstances of the later 1840s entailed that this opinion played a considerable part in limiting the options available to a weak and deeply divided government. The present debate amongst historians over whether and where moral responsibility for the famine can be attributed would be illuminated if such aspects were sufficiently taken into account. Too detailed an analysis can perhaps detract from the wit and humour of nineteenth-century cartoons and comic writing. Yet these were not merely intended as amusing frivolities. They had real political significance and should be treated as historical documents. We should beware of too hastily passing judgement on the people of the past but surely the performance of Punch can be evaluated in the light of its own critique of O’Connell in 1845: A joke is a joke, and nothing can be more pleasing … in its proper place – but not always. You wouldn’t cut capers over a dead body, or be particularly boisterous and facetious in a chapel or a sick-room and I think, of late … you have been allowing your humour to get the better of you on occasions almost as solemn. For, isn’t Hunger sacred? Isn’t Starvation solemn? When applied to Ireland, the answer appeared to be that it was not.

Peter Gray tutors in Irish history at Queen’s University, Belfast.

Perry Curtis, Apes and Angels: the Irishman in Victorian Caricature

and A. Briggs (eds.), Cap and Bell: Punch’s Chronicle of English History in the Making 1841-1861 (London 1972).

What social relationships existed between the popular mobility and the political elites in the revolutionary American colonies? - History

American Exceptionalism
A Double Edged Sword
By Seymour Martin Lipset

Chapter One: Ideology, Politics, and Deviance

Born out of revolution, the United States is a country organized around an ideology which includes a set of dogmas about the nature of a good society. Americanism, as different people have pointed out, is an "ism" or ideology in the same way that communism or fascism or liberalism are isms. As G. K. Chesterton put it: "America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence. . . ." As noted in the Introduction, the nation's ideology can be described in five words: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissezfaire. The revolutionary ideology which became the American Creed is liberalism in its eighteenth- and nineteenth-century meanings, as distinct from conservative Toryism, statist communitarianism, mercantilism, and noblesse oblige dominant in monarchical, state-church-formed cultures.

Other countries' senses of themselves are derived from a common history. Winston Churchill once gave vivid evidence to the difference between a national identity rooted in history and one defined by ideology in objecting to a proposal in 1940 to outlaw the anti-war Communist Party. In a speech in the House of Commons, Churchill said that as far as he knew, the Communist Party was composed of Englishmen and he did not fear an Englishman. In Europe, nationality is related to community, and thus one cannot become un-English or un-Swedish. Being an American, however, is an ideological commitment. It is not a matter of birth. Those who reject American values are un-American.

The American Revolution sharply weakened the noblesse oblige, hierarchically rooted, organic community values which had been linked to Tory sentiments, and enormously strengthened the individualistic, egalitarian, and anti-statist ones which had been present in the settler and religious background of the colonies. These values were evident in the twentieth-century fact that, as H. G. Wells pointed out close to ninety years ago, the United States not only has lacked a viable socialist party, but also has never developed a British or European-type Conservative or Tory party. Rather, America has been dominated by pure bourgeois, middle-class individualistic values. As Wells put it: "Essentially America is a middle-class [which has] become a community and so its essential problems are the problems of a modern individualistic society, stark and clear." He enunciated a theory of America as a liberal society, in the classic anti-statist meaning of the term:

It is not difficult to show for example, that the two great political parties in America represent only one English party, the middle-class Liberal party. . . . There are no Tories . . . and no Labor Party. . . . [T]he new world [was left] to the Whigs and Nonconformists and to those less constructive, less logical, more popular and liberating thinkers who became Radicals in England, and Jeffersonians and then Democrats in America. All Americans are, from the English point of view, Liberals of one sort or another. . . . The liberalism of the eighteenth century was essentially the rebellion . . . against the monarchical and aristocratic state--against hereditary privilege, against restrictions on bargains. Its spirit was essentially anarchistic--the antithesis of Socialism. It was anti-State.


In dealing with national characteristics it is important to recognize that comparative evaluations are never absolutes, that they always are made in terms of more or less. The statement that the United States is an egalitarian society obviously does not imply that all Americans are equal in any way that can be defined. This proposition usually means (regardless of which aspect is under consideration--social relations, status, mobility, etc.) that the United States is more egalitarian than Europe.

Comparative judgments affect all generalizations about societies. This is such an obvious, commonsensical truism that it seems almost foolish to enunciate it. I only do so because statements about America or other countries are frequently challenged on the ground that they are not absolutely true. Generalizations may invert when the unit of comparison changes. For example, Canada looks different when compared to the United States than when contrasted with Britain. Figuratively, on a scale of 0 to 100, with the United States close to 0 on a given trait and Britain at 100, Canada would fall around 30. Thus, when Canada is evaluated by reference to the United States, it appears as more elitist, law-abiding, and statist, but when considering the variations between Canada and Britain, Canada looks more anti-statist, violent, and egalitarian.

The notion of "American exceptionalism" became widely applied in the context of efforts to account for the weakness of working-class radicalism in the United States. The major question subsumed in the concept became why the United States is the only industrialized country which does not have a significant socialist movement or Labor party. That riddle has bedeviled socialist theorists since the late nineteenth century. Friedrich Engels tried to answer it in the last decade of his life. The German socialist and sociologist Werner Sombart dealt with it in a major book published in his native language in 1906, Why Is There No Socialism in the United States? As we have seen, H. G. Wells, then a Fabian, also addressed the issue that year in The Future in America. Both Lenin and Trotsky were deeply concerned because the logic of Marxism, the proposition expressed by Marx in Das Kapital that "the more developed country shows the less developed the image of their future," implied to Marxists prior to the Russian Revolution that the United States would be the first socialist country."

Since some object to an attempt to explain a negative, a vacancy, the query may of course be reversed to ask why has America been the most classically liberal polity in the world from its founding to the present? Although the United States remains the wealthiest large industrialized nation, it devotes less of its income to welfare and the state is less involved in the economy than is true for other developed countries. It not only does not have a viable, class-conscious, radical political movement, but its trade unions, which have long been weaker than those of almost all other industrialized countries, have been steadily declining since the mid-1950s. These issues are covered more extensively in chapter Three. An emphasis on American uniqueness raises the obvious question of the nature of the differences. There is a large literature dating back to at least the eighteenth century which attempts to specify the special character of the United States politically and socially. One of the most interesting, often overlooked, is Edmund Burke's speech to the House of Commons proposing reconciliation with the colonies, in which he sought to explain to his fellow members what the revolutionary Americans were like. He noted that they were different culturally, that they were not simply transplanted Englishmen. He particularly stressed the unique character of American religion. J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur, in his book Letters from an American Farmer, written in the late eighteenth century, explicitly raised the question, "What is an American?" He emphasized that Americans behaved differently in their social relations, were much more egalitarian than other nationalities, that their"dictionary" was "short in words of dignity, and names of honor," that is, in terms through which the lower strata expressed their subservience to the higher. Tocqueville, who observed egalitarianism in a similar fashion, also stressed individualism, as distinct from the emphasis on "group ties" which marked Europe.

These commentaries have been followed by a myriad--thousands upon thousands--of books and articles by foreign travelers. The overwhelming majority are by educated Europeans. Such writings are fruitful because they are comparative those who wrote them emphasized cross-national variations in behavior and institutions. Tocqueville's Democracy, of course, is the best known. As we have seen, he noted that he never wrote anything about the United States without thinking of France. As he put it, in speaking of his need to contrast the same institutions and behavior in both countries, "without comparisons to make, the mind doesn't know how to proceed." Harriet Martineau, an English contemporary, also wrote a first-rate comparative book on America. Friedrich Engels and Max Weber were among the contributors to the literature. There is a fairly systematic and similar logic in many of these discussions. Beyond the analysis of variations between the United States and Europe, various other comparisons have been fruitful. In previous writings, I have suggested that one of the best ways to specify and distinguish American traits is by contrast with Canada. There is a considerable comparative North American literature, written almost entirely by Canadians. They have a great advantage over Americans since, while very few of the latter study their northern neighbor, it is impossible to be a literate Canadian without knowing almost as much, if not more, as most Americans about the United States. Almost every Canadian work on a given subject (the city, religion, the family, trade unions, etc.) contains a great deal about the United States. Many Canadians seek to explain their own country by dealing with differences or similarities south of the border. Specifying and analyzing variations among the predominantly English-speaking countries--Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, and the United States--is also useful precisely because the differences among them generally are smaller than between each and non-Anglophonic societies. have tried to analyze these variations in The First New Nation. The logic of studying societies which have major aspects in common was also followed by Louis Hartz in treating the overseas settler societies--United States, Canada, Latin America, Australia, and South Africa--as units for comparison. Fruitful comparisons have been made between Latin America and Anglophonic North America, which shed light on each.

Some Latin Americans have argued that there are major common elements in the Americas which show up in comparisons with Europe. Fernando Cardoso, a distinguished sociologist and now president of Brazil, once told me that he and his friends (who were activists in the underground left in the early 1960s) consciously decided not to found a socialist party as the military dictatorship was breaking down. They formed a populist party because, as they read the evidence, class-conscious socialism does not appeal in the Americas. With the exceptions of Chile and Canada (to a limited extent), major New World left parties from Argentina to the United States have been populist. Cardoso suggested that consciousness of social class is less salient throughout most of the Americas than in postfeudal Europe. However, I do not want to take on the issue of how exceptional the Americas are dealing with the United States is more than enough.


The United States is viewed by many as the great conservative society, but it may also be seen as the most classically liberal polity in the developed world. To understand the exceptional nature of American politics, it is necessary to recognize, with H. G. Wells, that conservatism, as defined outside of the United States, is particularly weak in this country. Conservatism in Europe and Canada, derived from the historic alliance of church and government, is associated with the emergence of the welfare state. The two names most identified with it are Bismarck and Disraeli. Both were leaders of the conservatives (Tories) in their countries. They represented the rural and aristocratic elements, sectors which disdained capitalism, disliked the bourgeoisie, and rejected materialistic values. Their politics reflected the values of noblesse oblige, the obligation of the leaders of society and the economy to protect the less fortunate.

The semantic confusion about liberalism in America arises because both early and latter-day Americans never adopted the term to describe the unique American polity. The reason is simple. The American system of government existed long before the word "liberal" emerged in Napoleonic Spain and was subsequently accepted as referring to a particular party in mid-nineteenth-century England, as distinct from the Tory or Conservative Party. What Europeans have called "liberalism," Americans refer to as "conservatism": a deeply anti-statist doctrine emphasizing the virtues of laissez-faire. Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman, the two current names most frequently linked with this ideology, define conservatism in America. And as Friedrich Hayek, its most important European exponent noted, it includes the rejection of aristocracy, social class hierarchy, and an established state church. As recently as the April and June 1987 issues of the British magazine Encounter, two leading trans-Atlantic conservative intellectuals, Max Beloff (Lord Beloff) and Irving Kristol, debated the use of titles. Kristol argued that Britain "is soured by a set of very thin, but tenacious, aristocratic pretensions . . . [which] foreclose opportunities and repress a spirit of equality that has yet to find its full expression. . . ." This situation fuels many of the frustrations that make "British life . . . so cheerless, so abounding in ressentiment." Like Tocqueville, he holds up "social equality" as making"other inequalities tolerable in modern democracy." Beloff, a Tory, contended that what threatens conservatism in Britain "is not its remaining links with the aristocratic tradition, but its alleged indifference to some of the abuses of capitalism. It is not the Dukes who lose us votes, but the 'malefactors of great wealth. . . .'" He wondered "why Mr. Kristol believes himself to be a 'conservative,' " since he is "as incapable as most Americans of being a conservative in any profound sense." Lord Beloff concluded that "Conservatism must have a 'Tory' element or it is only the old 'Manchester School,' " i.e., liberal.

Canada's most distinguished conservative intellectual, George Grant, emphasized in his Lament for a Nation that "Americans who call themselves 'Conservatives' have the right to that title only in a particular sense. In fact, they are old-fashioned liberals. . . . Their concentration on freedom from governmental interference has more to do with nineteenth century liberalism than with traditional conservatism, which asserts the right of the community to restrain freedom in the name of the common good." Grant bemoaned the fact that American conservatism, with its stress on the virtues of competition and links to business ideology, focuses on the rights of individuals and ignores communal rights and obligations. He noted that there has been no place in the American political philosophy "for the organic conservatism that predates the age of progress. Indeed, the United States is the only society on earth that has no traditions from before the age of progress." The recent efforts, led by Amitai Etzioni, to create a "communitarian" movement are an attempt to transport Toryism to America. British and German Tories have recognized the link and have shown considerable interest in Etzioni's ideas. Still, it must be recognized that American politics have changed. The 1930s produced a qualitative difference. As Richard Hofstadter wrote, this period brought a "social democratic tinge" to the United States for the first time in its history. The Great Depression produced a strong emphasis on planning, on the welfare state, on the role of the government as a major regulatory actor. An earlier upswing in statist sentiment occurred immediately prior to World War 1, as evidenced by the significant support for the largely Republican Progressive movement led by Robert LaFollette and Theodore Roosevelt and the increasing strength (up to a high of 6% of the national vote in 1912) for the Socialist Party. They failed to change the political system. Grant McConnell explains the failure of the Progressive movement as stemming from "the pervasive and latent ambiguity in the movement" about confronting American anti-statist values. "Power as it exists was antagonistic to democracy, but how was it to be curbed without the erection of superior power?"

Prior to the 1930s, the American trade union movement was also in its majority anti-statist. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was syndicalist, believed in more union, not more state power, and was anti-socialist. Its predominant leader for forty years, Samuel Gompers, once said when asked about his politics, that he guessed he was three quarters of an anarchist. And he was right. Europeans and others who perceived the Gompers-led AFL as a conservative organization because it opposed the socialists were wrong. The AFL was an extremely militant organization, which engaged in violence and had a high strike rate. It was not conservative, but rather a militant anti-statist group. The United States also had a revolutionary trade union movement, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The IWW, like the AFL, was not socialist. It was explicitly anarchist, or rather, anarcho-syndicalist. The revived American radical movement of the 1960s, the so-called New Left, was also not socialist. While not doctrinally anarchist, it was much closer to anarchism and the IWW in its ideology and organizational structure than to the Socialists or Communists.

The New Deal, which owed much to the Progressive movement, was not socialist either. Franklin Roosevelt clearly wanted to maintain a capitalist economy. In running for president in 1932, he criticized Herbert Hoover and the Republicans for deficit financing and expanding the economic role of the government, which they had done in order to deal with the Depression. But his New Deal, also rising out of the need to confront the massive economic downsizing, drastically increased the statist strain in American politics, while furthering public support for trade unions. The new labor movement which arose concomitantly, the Committee for (later Congress of) Industrial Organization (CIO), unlike the American Federation of Labor (AFL), was virtually social democratic in its orientation. In fact, socialists and communists played important roles in the movement. The CIO was much more politically active than the older Federation and helped to press the Democrats to the left. The Depression led to a kind of moderate "Europeanization" of American politics, as well as of its labor organizations. Class factors became more important in differentiating party support. The conservatives, increasingly concentrated among the Republicans, remained anti-statist and laissez-faire, but many of them grew willing to accommodate an activist role for the state.

This pattern, however, gradually inverted after World War 11 as a result of long-term prosperity. The United States, like other parts of the developed world, experienced what some have called an economic miracle. The period from 1945 to the 1980s was characterized by considerable growth (mainly before the mid-1970s), an absence of major economic downswings, higher rates of social mobility both on a mass level and into the elites, and a tremendous expansion of higher educational systems--from a few million to 11 or 12 million going to colleges and universities--which fostered that mobility. America did particularly well economically, leading Europe and Japan by a considerable margin in terms of new job creation. A consequence of these developments was a refurbishing of the classical liberal ideology, that is, American conservatism. The class tensions produced by the Depression lessened, reflected in the decline of the labor movement and lower correlations between class position and voting choices. And the members of the small (by comparative standards) American labor movement are today significantly less favorable to government action than European unionists. Fewer than half of American union members are in favor of the government providing a decent standard of living for the unemployed, as compared with 69 percent of West German, 72 percent of British, and 73 percent of Italian unionists.33 Even before Ronald Reagan entered the White House in 1981, the United States had a lower rate of taxation, a less developed welfare state, and many fewer government-owned industries than other industrialized nations.

Watch the video: Den amerikanske revolution (June 2022).

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