Tag Archives: America

The American experiment

Noah Smith says: “The Trump thesis is, basically, that the American experiment is over.”

What is this American experiment? Well, there are two. The first is the post-secession experiment in governance. This experiment ended in failure almost immediately, was replaced with a new one, and whatever else you might think about that government, it’s now one of the oldest on Earth.

The second, and the one Noah Smith is talking about, is the bizarre ideological innovation that the United States of America is a “nation of immigrants, where ideals and institutions matter more than race or religion.” Google Ngrams can tell you that this mutation is recent: the phrase “nation of immigrants” is essentially unused until the 20th century and only takes off in the ’60s.

In 1958, John F. Kennedy, then a senator, wrote a booklet called A Nation of Immigrants “for the One Na­tion Library series of the Anti­Defamation League of B’nai B’rith”. He “at­tacked the national origins quota system as discriminatory and called for a generous, fair and flexible policy”. Kennedy lobbied for mass immigration until Lee Harvey Oswald, a Communist active in pro-Castro groups, shot him dead, possibly over the issue of Cuba. Two years later, the 1965 Immigration Act was proposed by Emanuel Celler, a pro-mass immigration ideologue from New York, and Philip Hart, the son of a banker, and helped along by Ted Kennedy.

Before 1965, the American population was 85.4% non-Hispanic white and 10.5% black. Most of America’s white population came from Western and Central Europe, especially the Germanic countries. There were some Irishmen and Italians in addition to the Englishmen, Germans, and Scandinavians, but this was no rainbow nation, nor had it ever been one.

In the early 1960s, the successful efforts of people like Theodore Roosevelt to end hyphenated-Americanism had largely succeeded. (Was Theodore Roosevelt anti-American? Apparently. Who knew.) Hyphenation was especially dead among the Germans, the largest ethnic minority at the time, partially as a result of America’s two wars against Germany; and especially not dead among the Irish, many of whom passed the hat in the pubs for the IRA. Maybe a few wars against Ireland would’ve helped, but if they hadn’t assimilated enough not to fund foreign terrorist groups…

These days, a lot of people—especially the intelligentsia, who are used to thinking of themselves as a separate class, detached from and foreign to the population as a whole, living in bubbles believed to be impregnable to the disgusting outside world—seem to think America has always been a ‘nation of immigrants’, and that the memorial that the friends of a mediocre Zionist poet had erected in her memory somewhere in New York after she died may as well be part of the Constitution. Since these people are a phyle of their own, since they already see themselves as minorities in an essentially foreign country, they have no problem with the prospect of those who are phyletically American having their homeland taken from them and used as grist for the mill of their ideological fantasies, nor with the idea that our homeland was intended as such.

(By the way, Noah, you do know what’s up with the néo-réactionnaires, right? It turns out that multiculturalism isn’t so great for the Jews. At least not the French Jews, many of whom have fled to Israel. Oops.)


The three Reddits

In addition to the right-Reddit, there is now a left-Reddit, sponsored by Lena Dunham and advertised by leftist press-release reprinter TechCrunch, previously known for doxing Mencius Moldbug.

Given the Rabid Puppies and so on, it seems likely that fandoms will pillarize. I hear that the interactive fiction world has already split along political lines: choice-based interactive fiction is apparently associated with the left, and parser-based interactive fiction with the right. To round out the pillars, is there a Christian interactive fiction industry? Christians are one of the two groups in America that have completed the process of pillarization—Christian rock, Christian colleges, Christian video games, even a Christian brand of mints (yes, really; they sold them at the Adventist store when I was young, and yes, there are such things as Adventist stores)—so it wouldn’t surprise me. Then again, Rod Dreher doesn’t seem to think there’s such a thing as a Christian pillar.

American cartoons are mostly left-coded, leaving the right with anime and My Little Pony.

And the Ghostbusters reboot—at a time when the studios are seemingly incapable of coming up with new ideas, and relying mostly on, of all things, comic-book superhero films—is being marketed with the same techniques as Hillary Clinton (and, arguably, as 12 Years a Slave): you should consume this product because it is politically obligatory for Right-Thinking People to consume this product. If this strategy works, it will be reused.

Speaking of Hillary Clinton, remember that pillarization in the Netherlands was consciously chosen by political elites:

The Dutch parties, deciding to recruit their followers exclusively from an ideologically clearly defined group, had to anticipate two consequences—a desirable and an undesirable one: By pillarization they could ensure a longlasting, nearly blind loyalty but on the other hand they had to accept a strict limitation of their sphere of influence, because all members of different religious or ideological groups were by definitionem beyond reach. …

They compared the disadvantages of limiting their sphere of influence with the big advantages: if a realistic chance could be expected to gain a majority, pillarization would be the best strategy possible for gaining both: majority and loyal voters.

And remember that Dutch pillarization was functional because of the strong tradition of cooperation among the elites of the different pillars.

No such tradition exists here.

The mystery model: 2016 is not 2008

Previously: 1 2 3.

I expected that the mystery model would apply to the 2008 primary, but it doesn’t.

Mississippi 37.3% Obama
Louisiana 32.4% Obama
Georgia 31.4% Obama
Maryland 30.1% Obama
South Carolina 28.5% Obama
Alabama 26.4% Obama
North Carolina 21.6% Obama
Delaware 20.1% Obama
Virginia 19.9% Obama
Tennessee 16.8% Clinton
Florida 15.9% N/A
Arkansas 15.8% Clinton
New York 15.2% Clinton
Illinois 14.9% Obama
New Jersey 14.5% Clinton
Michigan 14.2% N/A
Ohio 12.0% Clinton
Texas 11.9% Clinton
Missouri 11.5% Obama
Pennsylvania 10.8% Clinton
Connecticut 10.3% Obama
Indiana 9.1% Clinton
Nevada 9.0% Clinton
Kentucky 8.2% Clinton
Massachusetts 8.1% Clinton
Oklahoma 8.0% Clinton
Rhode Island 7.5% Clinton
California 6.7% Clinton
Kansas 6.2% Obama
Wisconsin 6.1% Obama
Minnesota 4.6% Obama
Nebraska 4.5% Obama
Colorado 4.3% Obama
Alaska 4.3% Obama
Arizona 4.2% Clinton
Washington 3.7% Obama
West Virginia 3.6% Clinton
Hawaii 3.1% Obama
New Mexico 3.0% Clinton
Iowa 2.7% Obama
Oregon 2.0% Obama
Wyoming 1.3% Obama
Utah 1.3% Obama
New Hampshire 1.2% Clinton
South Dakota 1.1% Clinton
North Dakota 1.1% Obama
Maine 1.0% Obama
Idaho 1.0% Obama
Vermont 0.9% Obama
Montana 0.7% Obama

To recap: there’s one statistic that almost perfectly predicts the results of the 2016 Democratic primary. States that come in at above 8.00% (Oklahoma is rounded up) go to Clinton, with two exceptions, Michigan and Indiana, out of 24; states that come in below 8.00% go to Sanders, with two exceptions, Arizona and Iowa, out of 20. In my original post on this model, I called New Jersey, California, New Mexico, and Kentucky for Clinton, and West Virginia, Oregon, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana for Sanders. The West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oregon primaries have since been held. Clinton won Kentucky and Sanders won West Virginia and Oregon.

In 2008, of the 23 eligible states above the 8.00% cutoff, Clinton won eleven and Obama won twelve; and of the 25 states below the 8.00% cutoff, Clinton won eight and Obama won 17.

Has any election in recent history other than the 2016 Democratic primary been decided by a single statistic like this? Eyeballing the maps of both parties’ primaries back to 1980, it doesn’t look like it.

The closest precedent that I know of is the general election in 1968.

Does the mystery model generalize?

I recently found a simple statistic that distinguishes with near-perfect accuracy between states that voted for Clinton and states that voted for Sanders. It would be interesting to see whether it generalizes to the Republican primary, or to the 2012 general, though I doubt it will.

State ??? 2016 Dem primary 2016 GOP Primary 2012 General
Mississippi 37.3% Clinton Trump Romney
Louisiana 32.4% Clinton Trump Romney
Georgia 31.4% Clinton Trump Romney
Maryland 30.1% Clinton Trump Obama
South Carolina 28.5% Clinton Trump Romney
Alabama 26.4% Clinton Trump Romney
North Carolina 21.6% Clinton Trump Romney
Delaware 20.1% Clinton Trump Obama
Virginia 19.9% Clinton Trump Obama
Tennessee 16.8% Clinton Trump Romney
Florida 15.9% Clinton Trump Romney
Arkansas 15.8% Clinton Trump Romney
New York 15.2% Clinton Trump Obama
Illinois 14.9% Clinton Trump Obama
New Jersey 14.5% N/A N/A Obama
Michigan 14.2% Sanders Trump Obama
Ohio 12.0% Clinton Kasich Obama
Texas 11.9% Clinton Cruz Romney
Missouri 11.5% Clinton Trump Romney
Pennsylvania 10.8% Clinton Trump Obama
Connecticut 10.3% Clinton Trump Obama
Indiana 9.1% Sanders Trump Romney
Nevada 9.0% Clinton Trump Obama
Kentucky 8.2% N/A Trump Romney
Massachusetts 8.1% Clinton Trump Obama
Oklahoma 8.0% Sanders Cruz Romney
Rhode Island 7.5% Sanders Trump Obama
California 6.7% N/A N/A Obama
Kansas 6.2% Sanders Cruz Romney
Wisconsin 6.1% Sanders Cruz Obama
Minnesota 4.6% Sanders Rubio Obama
Nebraska 4.5% Sanders N/A Romney
Colorado 4.3% Sanders Cruz Obama
Alaska 4.3% Sanders Cruz Romney
Arizona 4.2% Clinton Trump Romney
Washington 3.7% Sanders N/A Obama
West Virginia 3.6% Sanders N/A Romney
Hawaii 3.1% Sanders Trump Obama
New Mexico 3.0% N/A N/A Obama
Iowa 2.7% Clinton Cruz Obama
Oregon 2.0% N/A  N/A Obama
Wyoming 1.3% Sanders Cruz Romney
Utah 1.3% Sanders Cruz Romney
New Hampshire 1.2% Sanders Trump Obama
South Dakota 1.1% N/A N/A Romney
North Dakota 1.1% N/A N/A Romney
Maine 1.0% Sanders Cruz Obama
Idaho 1.0% Sanders Cruz Romney
Vermont 0.9% Sanders Trump Obama
Montana 0.7% N/A N/A Romney

I’ve left out Nebraska and West Virginia from the GOP side, because those races had only one candidate.

The general election is clearly regional; our mystery statistic doesn’t appear to be relevant. The GOP primary is more interesting: the only states Trump lost above our 8.0% cutoff are Ohio (Kasich’s home state) and Texas (Cruz’s), but he won seven states below the cutoff: Rhode Island, Nebraska, Arizona, West Virginia, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Of these, Rhode Island, West Virginia, New Hampshire, and Vermont are East Coast states, and Trump has won every East Coast state except Maine; of the rest, Arizona is an exception for the Democrats as well, for obvious reasons that would be taken into account in a slightly more complex version of this model.

Another way to put this is: above our 8.0% cutoff, 10 Trump states voted for Obama in 2012 and 12 voted for Romney, but below it, every Trump state but Arizona went to Obama. (Below the cutoff, 6 non-Trump states went to Romney and 5 went to Obama.)

So: the mystery model appears to hold for the GOP primary, but there’s a regional effect on top of it.

Who doesn’t speak English at home?

20.7% of the population of the United States.

12.9% of the population speaks Spanish at home. In other words, over half of the people who don’t speak English at home speak Spanish at home. 3.7% of the population speaks another Indo-European language; the most common of these are French (0.43%) and German (0.36%).

How many people speak a European language other than Spanish at home? I’ll take ‘European languages’ to include French, Cajun, Italian, Portuguese, German, Luxembourgish, Yiddish, Pennsylvania German, Dutch, Frisian, all Scandinavian, Celtic, and Balto-Slavic languages, Greek, Romanian, Albanian, Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, and Basque. This comes out to about seven million people, or 2.4%. French and German make up slightly more than two million of that figure, as do the Slavic languages.

0.62% speak an Indic language other than Urdu at home. The most common are Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali, and Punjabi.

0.99% speak Chinese at home, 0.55% Tagalog, 0.48% Vietnamese, and 0.38% Korean. For Asian languages as a whole, the figure is 3.3%.

Native American languages don’t make up a significant part of the statistic: only 0.12% of the population speak one at home, and 45.8% of them speak Navajo.

Almost as many people speak Arabic at home as French, and almost as many people speak an African language at home as Arabic.

8.6% of the population speak English less than “very well”.

Looking only at the part of the population that doesn’t speak English at home: 62.1% speak Spanish, 4.8% speak a Sinitic language (i.e. a “dialect of Chinese”), 2.7% speak Tagalog, 2.3% speak Vietnamese, and 2.1% speak French. These are the most common languages non-English languages spoken at home in the US; the only others with more than a million people are Korean and German. 17.8% speak an Indo-European language other than Spanish, and 11.8% speak a European language. 0.28% speak Navajo and 0.33% speak another Native American language.

Oddly, the Census Bureau considers “Paleo-siberian” (i.e. the Chukotko-Kamchatkan and Yukaghir languages, Ket, Nivkh, and Ainu) to be one language. 530 people speak it at home.

All you need to know about Sweden in one map



The USA comes out slightly better. English is only the second most popular language on Duolingo here. The only other first-world countries where the official language is the second most popular on Duolingo are Norway and Austria.

Duolingo writes:

Duolingo’s Swedish course turns out to be the most popular in Sweden itself: 27% of all users in Sweden are learning Swedish.

Why would that be the case? Immigration to Sweden has been skyrocketing in recent years: one in six Swedish residents in 2015 was born outside of Sweden. The fastest growing foreign-born groups are from Syria and Afghanistan, reflecting a recent increase in the refugee population. Duolingo recently released a Swedish course for Arabic speakers, which will hopefully help!

But it’s not just Sweden. There are several other countries where immigrants are using Duolingo to learn the language of their new home.

In the United States, immigrants constitute 13.1% of the total population. But even more — over 20% of the population — speak a language other than English at home, and over 25 million people speak English less than “Very Well”. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, English is the second most popular language in the United States, attracting 21% of the country’s Duolingo users.

Another case is Norway, where Norwegian is the second most popular language (with 18% of all users). Similarly to Sweden, Norway has been recently accepting many migrants and refugees. According to the data from the beginning of the year, immigrants constitute 13.4% of the total population in Norway.



The Democratic primary, part 2

Data on white % for Sanders is from CNN’s exit polls.

This is profoundly annoying — there’s exit poll data for only five states below the line, one of which is Sanders’s home state and one of which is an unexplained outlier. How is anyone supposed to run any statistical analysis with this garbage? CBS and NYT are no better.

Is there a way to estimate white % for Sanders in states without exit polling? I don’t know statistics.

A naïve computation of Pearson’s coefficient gives = -0.6653, p = 0.00021. Removing the outliers of Texas, Nevada, and Vermont gives = -0.6971, = 0.00022. Removing Vermont alone gives = -0.6643, p = 0.0003.

Perhaps there are regional effects beyond our mystery coefficient. Looking at states with substantial Southern Baptist populations alone (that is: Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, and Oklahoma), = -0.5729, = 0.051. This is not significant at p < 0.05, but only barely. If we add Maryland, which was founded as a refuge for Catholics and is plurality Catholic today, to make this a measure of the whole South, we get = -0.562, = 0.046.

Before looking at the non-Southern states, remember that we’re missing most of the low end. Pearson’s coefficient is woefully unsuited to this. Southern states don’t have this problem: all but Louisiana have exit poll data, and all but Kentucky (and West Virginia, which would be included by the Southern Baptist metric, and Delaware, which wouldn’t be) have voted. It’s pointless to give Pearson’s coefficient here; I include it in the hope that it motivates someone who does statistics to do a better analysis, or at least find more exit poll data. Non-Southern states: = -0.5124, = 0.061. Non-Southern states minus Texas, Nevada, and Vermont, = -0.1683, = 0.62.

State ??? White % for Sanders Winner
Mississippi 37.3% 31% Clinton
Louisiana 32.4% ??? Clinton
Georgia 31.4% 41% Clinton
Maryland 30.1% 42% Clinton
South Carolina 28.5% 46% Clinton
Alabama 26.4% 38% Clinton
North Carolina 21.6% 52% Clinton
Delaware 20.1% ??? Clinton
Virginia 19.9% 42% Clinton
Tennessee 16.8% 42% Clinton
Florida 15.9% 43% Clinton
Arkansas 15.8% 35% Clinton
New York 15.2% 50% Clinton
Illinois 14.9% 57% Clinton
New Jersey 14.5% N/A N/A
Michigan 14.2% 56% Sanders
Ohio 12.0% 47% Clinton
Texas 11.9% 41% Clinton
Missouri 11.5% 54% Clinton
Pennsylvania 10.8% 47% Clinton
Connecticut 10.3% 50% Clinton
Indiana 9.1% 59% Sanders
Nevada 9.0% 49% Clinton
Kentucky 8.2% N/A N/A
Massachusetts 8.1% 50% Clinton
Oklahoma 8.0% 56% Sanders
Rhode Island 7.5% ??? Sanders
California 6.7% N/A N/A
Kansas 6.2% ??? Sanders
Wisconsin 6.1% 59% Sanders
Minnesota 4.6% ??? Sanders
Nebraska 4.5% ??? Sanders
Colorado 4.3% ??? Sanders
Alaska 4.3% ??? Sanders
Arizona 4.2% ??? Clinton
Washington 3.7% ??? Sanders
West Virginia 3.6% N/A N/A
Hawaii 3.1% ??? Sanders
New Mexico 3.0% N/A N/A
Iowa 2.7% 46% Clinton
Oregon 2.0% N/A N/A
Wyoming 1.3% ??? Sanders
Utah 1.3% ??? Sanders
New Hampshire 1.2% 61% Sanders
South Dakota 1.1% N/A N/A
North Dakota 1.1% N/A N/A
Maine 1.0% ??? Sanders
Idaho 1.0% ??? Sanders
Vermont 0.9% 86% Sanders
Montana 0.7% N/A N/A

The Democratic primary in one chart

There’s one statistic that almost perfectly predicts the results of the Democratic primary. Can you guess what it is?

Unexpected results are highlighted in red. Arizona is expected under a slightly more complicated model. Indiana may be expected; I’ve drawn the line between Clinton and Sanders at 8.00% exactly. (Oklahoma is rounded up from 7.96%.) If Indiana is expected, Massachusetts is unexpected, but Nevada is still expected under the slightly more complicated model. I can’t explain Iowa. I could possibly explain Michigan if I looked at county-level data, but I don’t know how looking at county-level data would affect the other results from the model; it may be better to also take into account Scandinavian ancestry.

I hope Sanders doesn’t drop out before Kentucky. Kentucky could determine where the line should be drawn. If Sanders wins, the line should be at 10% and Massachusetts is unexpected; if Clinton wins, the line should remain where it is. Of course, it may be that the states closest to the line can be determined by factors not easily amenable to raw statistical analysis, like the competence of a candidate’s campaign.

Needless to say, I predict that, if the primary continues long enough, Clinton will win New Jersey, and Sanders will win West Virginia, Oregon, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana. I also predict that Clinton will win California and New Mexico. I haven’t looked at any polls except those for Kentucky, which I predict (with less confidence) that Clinton will win.

It would be interesting to look at exit poll data with this statistic in mind.

State ??? Winner
Mississippi 37.3% Clinton
Louisiana 32.4% Clinton
Georgia 31.4% Clinton
Maryland 30.1% Clinton
South Carolina 28.5% Clinton
Alabama 26.38% Clinton
North Carolina 21.6% Clinton
Delaware 20.1% Clinton
Virginia 19.9% Clinton
Tennessee 16.8% Clinton
Florida 15.9% Clinton
Arkansas 15.8% Clinton
New York 15.2% Clinton
Illinois 14.9% Clinton
New Jersey 14.5% N/A
Michigan 14.2% Sanders
Ohio 12.0% Clinton
Texas 11.9% Clinton
Missouri 11.5% Clinton
Pennsylvania 10.8% Clinton
Connecticut 10.3% Clinton
Indiana 9.1% Sanders
Nevada 9.0% Clinton
Kentucky 8.2% N/A
Massachusetts 8.1% Clinton
Oklahoma 8.0% Sanders
Rhode Island 7.5% Sanders
California 6.7% N/A
Kansas 6.2% Sanders
Wisconsin 6.1% Sanders
Minnesota 4.6% Sanders
Nebraska 4.5% Sanders
Colorado 4.3% Sanders
Alaska 4.3% Sanders
Arizona 4.2% Clinton
Washington 3.7% Sanders
West Virginia 3.6% N/A
Hawaii 3.1% Sanders
New Mexico 3.0% N/A
Iowa 2.7% Clinton
Oregon 2.0% N/A
Wyoming 1.3% Sanders
Utah 1.3% Sanders
New Hampshire 1.2% Sanders
South Dakota 1.1% N/A
North Dakota 1.1% N/A
Maine 1.0% Sanders
Idaho 1.0% Sanders
Vermont 0.9% Sanders
Montana 0.7% N/A

Christopher Lasch on progressive imperialism

[New Republic co-founder Herbert] Croly’s confidence in public opinion and “virtuous social actors” struck most liberals by this time as old-fashioned and unsophisticated. They were more impressed by Walter Lippmann’s analysis of the irrationality of public opinion and by H. L. Mencken’s ridicule of democracy as the reign of the “booboisie.” Mencken taught liberal intellectuals to think of themselves as a “civilized minority” and to wear unpopularity as a badge of honor. A man of intelligence and taste would always find himself “in active revolt against the culture that surrounds him.” Praising Sinclair Lewis, Mencken laid it down as a dogma that “the artist is … a public enemy; vox populi, to him, is the bray of an ass.” The best thinking was always carried out in “conscious revolt” against the majority.

The postwar reaction made it easy for liberals to accept Mencken’s low opinion of the average American. Not only liberalism but civilization itself, it seemed, had no future in America: such was the conclusion reached by most of the contributors to Harold Stearns’ celebrated symposium, civilization in the United States (1912). Another collaborative project, a state-by-state survey conducted by the nation in the early twenties, conveyed the same impression, on the whole; even more than the Stearns collection, “these United States” revealed liberals’ deep revulsion from American politics and popular culture.

In launching the series, the editors of the nation expressed the hope that “variety and experiment” in the United States would prevail over the forces making for “centralization and regimentation.” The picture of America that emerged from most of the articles, however, looked more like the one made familiar by Mencken and Stearns. Mencken himself contributed the piece on Maryland: “no light, no color, no sound!” several articles were written by authors well known for savage satires of provincial life: Sinclair Lewis on Minnesota (“Scandinavians Americanize only too quickly”); Sherwood Anderson on Ohio (“Have you a city that smells worse than Akron, that is a worse junk-heap of ugliness than Youngstown, that is more smugly self-satisfied than Cleveland?”); and Theodore Dreiser on Indiana (“dogmatic religion,” “political somnolence,” “pharisaical restfulness in its assumed enlightenment”). At least two articles (“Michigan: the Fordizing of a pleasant peninsula” and “West Virginia: a mine-field melodrama”) were written by proteges of Mencken on the Baltimore Sun; another (“Arkansas, a native proletariat” referred to him repeatedly; and several others, including Ludwig Lewisohn’s scathing piece on South Carolina (“appalling and intolerant ignorance and meanness of spirit”), were done in the Mencken manner. Evidently the editors of the Nation saw no contradiction between a celebration of regional diversity and a satire of local customs bound to leave the impression that the United States was populated largely by rednecks, fundamentalists, and militant adherents of the Ku Klux Klan. They conceived of the series as a “contribution to the new literature of national self-analysis”; but they did not distinguish between self­-analysis founded on a writer’s identification with his community and a social criticism that reflected an impregnable sense of superiority to the surrounding culture.

The South in particular—condemned as much for the backwardness of its provincial culture as for its deplorable race relations—elicited this second type of criticism. In Alabama, a state “saturated with provincialism,” the ideas of the arch-reactionary G. K. Chesterton “would be considered advanced,” according to Clement Wood. The state’s “mental and spiritual sterility” had been analyzed “with devastating impertinence” in Mencken’s well-known diatribe against the South, “the Sahara of the Bozart,” and Wood found it difficult to add anything to the indictment. He could only ask, once again, what Alabama had contributed “to music, to drama, to sculpture, to painting, to literature, or to the world of science, that handmaiden of man in his progress from beasthood.” Only Virginia and North Carolina, among southern states, came in for mildly favorable comment. According to Douglas Southall Freeman, the “new educational movement” was the “hope of every progressive Virginian.” Robert Watson Winston took comfort from the existence of an “active, forward-looking element” in North Carolina, a state that no longer proclaimed herself “provincial and proud of it.”

Condemnation of Southern backwardness, in a liberal weekly, might have been expected. More surprising was that a series conceived as an exploration of diversity so often ended by holding up a uniform standard of cultural progress, one measured by great works of art and notable achievements in science and technology. None of the contributors asked whether a new order in the South would not have to rest on traditions indigenous to the region. None showed much interest in the requirements for a vigorous civic life, as opposed to the number of orchestras, art galleries, libraries, and universities. The implication was that “civilization,” if it was ever to come to the south, would have to come from outside. The only hope for Mississippi, according to Beulah Amidon Ratliff, was an invasion of “missionaries” from the North. Like the rest of the South, Mississippi needed “educational missionaries, to bring both white and colored schools up to modern standards; medical missionaries, to teach hygiene and sanitation; … agricultural missionaries, to teach modern methods of farming.” Only in the wake of a second Reconstruction would the “light of civilization penetrate the uttermost parts” of Dixie. …

Even Kansas and Iowa, states that prided themselves on their spirit of improvement, remained culturally backward. William Allen White described Kansas as a “Puritan survival.” Although he conceded her civic spirit, her elimination of poverty and crime, and her rising standards of health and education, his account stressed the negative side of “Puritanism.” The “dour deadly desire to fight what was deemed wrong” had grunted the sense of beauty. Kansas had produced “no great poet, no great painter, no great musician, no great writer or philosopher,” only the “dead level of economic and political democracy.” Johan J. Smertenko used the same kind of language in his account of Iowa, a “cautious, prosaic, industrious, and mediocre” place in which the prospects for “cultural expression” were “bleak indeed.” Lacking any “generous purpose” or “spiritual background,” Iowa was a “dull, gray monotone.” “Seldom has a people been less interested in spiritual self-expression and more concerned with hog nutrition.”

John Macy, the Nation’s literary editor, painted an equally unflattering portrait of Massachusetts, where Yankee traditions had been modified by Catholic immigration without producing anything more than a “complaisant and insignificant conformism.” If Catholics “mistakenly and stupidly” abused their “new-found strength” by banning works on the spanish inquisition or the novels of Zola from public libraries, their attempt to impose intellectual uniformity marked only a “slight transformation of Puritan zealotry.” The “more enlightened citizens of Massachusetts” could take pride in Holmes and Brandeis, but mediocre politicians like Henry Cabot Lodge, David Walsh, and the “yokel” Calvin Coolidge more accurately represented the electorate. The people of Massachusetts got the politicians and the newspapers they deserved. Except for the Christian Science Monitor—a national rather than a local paper—the press exhibited the “dress and cultivation of a boom mining-town.”

That states as different as Iowa and Massachusetts could prompt the same kind of disparagement suggests that the conventions underlying this disparagement had acquired a life of their own. …

Taken as a whole, these reports conveyed an unmistakable impression of liberal intellectuals’ sense of alienation from America.

— Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven

The geopolitical uses of abstraction

What would have been the geopolitical uses of abstraction? The theory, as it was proposed in articles published in Artforum and other journals in the nineteen-seventies, and then elaborated in Serge Guilbaut’s “How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art” (1983) and Frances Stonor Saunders’s “The Cultural Cold War” (1999), is that abstract painting was an ideal propaganda tool. It was avant-garde, the product of an advanced civilization. In contrast to Soviet painting, it was neither representational nor didactic. It could be understood as pure painting—art absorbed by its own possibilities, experiments in color and form. Or it could be understood as pure expression—a “school” in which every artist had a unique signature. A Pollock looked nothing like a Rothko, which looked nothing like a Gorky or a Kline. Either way, Abstract Expressionism stood for autonomy: the autonomy of art, freed from its obligation to represent the world, or the freedom of the individual—just the principles that the United States was defending in the worldwide struggle. Art critics therefore developed apolitical modes of appreciation and evaluation, emphasizing the formal rigor or the existentialist drama of the paintings; and the Museum of Modern Art favored Abstract Expressionists in its purchases and international exhibitions, at the expense of art whose politics might have been problematic—the kind of naturalist art, for example, that was featured in the “Advancing American Art” exhibition.