— of my delay in purchasing and reading David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, which I am now devouring.
My apologies to 1) Lex; 2) anybody else on this blog; 3) anybody else in the blogosphere; and 4) anybody else anywhere over the past 17 years since its publication who has urged it upon me. Albion’s Seed is overwhelming. The pattern of cultural and linguistic influences in my own life — mostly Quaker/Delaware Valley, with a large (and thankfully benign) admixture of Border/Backcountry, and perhaps traces of the others (thanks to being born and mostly raised in Missouri, where worlds collide) — has shaped my political temperament, if not my specific beliefs; I’m a mild-mannered, moderate, quasi-anarchist.
But you don’t graze in here to read about me (if you do: for God’s sake, get a life*). The real lesson of the book, although I imagine many of its readers will enjoy developing a greater insight into their personal backgrounds at least as much as I did, is about how much of present-day American political culture is directly traceable to the four founding migrations from the UK in the 17th and 18th centuries. From the luridly ascetic authoritarianism of the Puritans, the luridly hedonistic authoritarianism of the Cavaliers, the relatively sane (but deeply sexually repressed) “reciprocal liberty” of the Quakers, and the fantastically violent impulsiveness of the Borderlands colonists came everything from the high taxes and gun control laws of Massachusetts to the 80 mph Texas speed limit and 40-per-100,000 murder rate in south Dallas.
Nor, I might mention, does Fischer stop at 1600. The four cultures themselves grew out of far earlier (first millennium) migrations to Britain itself, and from conflicts which had raged for several centuries before Jamestown, Plymouth Rock, et al. Antecedents may be seen in, among others, the kingdom of Alfred the Great — and the Nordic invaders he pacified; and if you try to guess which set of folkways would seem more congenial in early-21st-century America, you’ll probably guess wrong.
This one earns a place of honor on my bookshelf next to GENERATIONS and The Nine Nations of North America. By way of reparation, therefore: Lex, barbecue’s on me if you’re ever in KC. The rest of you are on your own.
* Having said that, here’s some more about me: I’m descended (probably) from a young man who landed at Boston in 1635 (he had an even younger brother who emigrated to Virginia at the same time, but tropical diseases thinned the southern colonists out pretty drastically) but whose descendants moved to Pennsylvania, picked up some portion of the Quaker worldview, moved on to Tennessee but (it is said, perhaps apocryphally) eventually left for Illinois when their abolitionist sentiments made them odious to their neighbors, and then to Iowa, where they resided for upwards of a century — I seem to have been conceived in Iowa, in fact. The post-Depression diaspora and migration to cities (and suburbs) scattered me and my cousins everywhere from Ohio to Florida, Texas, and Arizona. I am, somewhat ironically, closest to its starting point.