Gabriel J. LoiaconoJuly 2, 2012 - 8:58am0 comments
A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America
Viking Press, $30, 384 pp.
Did the Founding Fathers bring forth on this continent “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” as Abraham Lincoln put it in 1863? No, says Colin Woodard in American Nations. Rather, the founding fathers managed an alliance of several nations in 1776, nations that never agreed on the meaning of liberty or even the proposition of equality. Reviving and extending the theory that citizens of the United States are, to this day, divided into cultures that date back to the Europeans who first colonized their regions, Woodard describes eleven distinct “nations” covering most of North America. These nations shape how we vote, where we prefer to live, what kind of work we do, and what precisely we think liberty and equality mean.
Most of the nations Woodard names were founded in the colonial period of North American history. The first, El Norte, was an isolated and brutal place that developed a strong work ethic and would eventually include regions on both sides of the U.S.–Mexico border. Tidewater and Yankeedom, centered in Virginia and Massachusetts respectively, were rivals from the beginning in Woodard’s telling. Borrowing heavily from the historian David Hackett Fischer, Woodard describes Tidewater as a hierarchical region in which liberty is a privilege of the elites. By contrast, Yankeedom, founded by the Pilgrims and...