Following last November's election I passed the following remark on Radio Derb: "We are still fighting the Civil War. That is to say, the contest was mainly between two huge groups of white people who don't much like each other, with the colored folk playing a marginal role. That's how it was in the War Between the States, and that's how it still is today."
It is by no means an original observation. In a piece on Taki's Magazine last month ("Sectionalism, Then And Now"), I retailed Shelby Foote's quoting of the definition of the Civil War offered by Senator James M. Mason of Virginia (1798-1871): "I look upon it then, Sir, as a war of sentiment and opinion by one form of society against another form of society."
Here is a lengthier exposition of the same notion, which I think is a key to understanding American politics and social history, past and present. It's from the pen (keyboard, whatever) of "Doug," a commenter at EconLog. I was browsing these comments — they relate to a column by Bryan Caplan — after being directed there by Steve Sailer, who also has things to say in the comment thread.
Here is Doug's first, slightly edited for clarity:
Let's say you were to immigrate to a new country which is essentially divided between two hostile tribes engaged in perpetual low-intensity warfare. We'll call them Hutus and Tutsis. You have no previous allegiance or affiliation with either tribe.
Let's also say that one tribe, Tutsis, holds a hegemony on all organs of education and opinion, virtually the entire government bureaucracy and all of popular culture. Many of the most prestigious institutions in the country consist of 95%+ Tutsis. Tutsi organizations like "Harvard University" and "The New York Times" are widely respected by even ardent Hutus.
Now of course there are Hutu organizations and no shortage of powerful Hutu people. But, unlike the reverse, there are virtually no prestigious institutions where Tutsis are excluded. I.e. some prestigious and powerful institutions, like "General Electric" or "Goldman Sachs" may be 2:1 Hutu at most. But any with a 10:1 ratio or more are virtually guaranteed to be far inferior, second-rate and low status institutions or organizations. Examples of these pariahs are "Oral Roberts University", "Fox News" and "Amway."
This leads to a strange asymmetry where it is certainly possible to succeed in this society while being Hutu, it almost never hurts to be Tutsi. For example just the other day there was a Tutsi ceremony called "The Academy Awards" that almost exclusively honors Tutsis. Despite this, this ceremony is observed and recognized by Hutus around the country.
A rational, self-interested immigrant to this society would of course choose align himself as a moderate, but reliably loyal Tutsi. Unless you're a Tutsi extremist, leaning Tutsi will almost never hurt your career or standing except in all but the most malformed, backwards and irrelevant Hutu organizations.
But failure to demonstrate at least general sympathy to the Tutsi side will almost undoubtedly lock you out of many career options and generally draw attention to you in most corners of polite society.
A few comments later comes Steve, saying, inter alia:
Whites are constantly terrified of offending anybody else, and they lack organized pressure groups to defend them.
Doug ripostes with:
[Quoting Steve:] "Whites are constantly terrified of offending anybody else, and they lack organized pressure groups to defend them."
Although the Republican party is the "party of white people" and Democrats the "non-white party" a lot higher proportion of the latter vote Democrat than the former Republican. Whites may go majority Republican, but still less than 60% voted Republican. In contrast blacks went 95%+, hispanics 75%+, South Asians 80%+, East Asians 70%+, etc.
In general we can observe this pattern in many other traditional Republican/Democrat fault lines. Republicans are the party of Christians and Democrats non-Christians. Yet 80%+ of non-Christians vote Democrat and only 55% of Christians [vote Republican]. Democrats are the party of the lower class, and Republicans the upper-class. Yet almost everyone below the poverty level votes Democrat, but the ultra-rich are evenly divided. Democrats are the party of academia and education, Republicans are the party of business. But finding a Republican professor is as rare as a unicorn, but Democratic CEOs abound.
Furthermore there are many many organizations and activities that are overwhelmingly white. Christian Lander documented tons of them at Stuff White People Like. For example NPR, both in terms of employees and listeners, is overwhelmingly white. It's also overwhelmingly leftist. The vast majority of the New York Times staff and readers are white. The only thing they had fewer of in the audience at the Academy Awards than minorities were Republicans. Ironically even Barack Obama's election campaign had trouble finding minorities, at least at the higher levels.
I guarantee you the white people in these institutions are some of the most selfish, ambitious and unscrupulous human beings you will ever meet. They're not supporting the left because they're meek, afraid and oblivious to their own interests. They're supporting the left because its good for their status and careers. Even if their was an NAAWP to counter-balance the NAACP, Frank Rich would have zero interest in joining.
George Clooney doesn't care if a bunch of working class whites have falling wages because of a flood Central American peasants. And his lack of caring doesn't have anything to do with a lack of an organization to make him aware of these issues. He no more has affinity for blue collar white Nebraskans than a Sudanese Arab Muslim has for a black animist.
You are grossly under-estimating the extreme grip on power the leftists and progressives have in this country. Progressives were crushing conservatives on policy victories back in FDR's administration when the non-white vote was a trivial issue. Minority rights are just yet another innovation in a long long litany of political issues that are systematically biased to favor the left over the right.
There are two major tribes in America locked in long-running low-intensity warfare. They have been for over two centuries. One tribe has absorbed virtually all the rise in the non-white population, but it existed well before then. And just because all non-whites have joined this tribe doesn't mean that all whites naturally fall in the other tribe. There are many many others who interests align with the left than just minorities. If you believe otherwise you'll be deluded into thinking that all it takes for your tribe to win is to simply educate and inform these wrong-sided whites and converting them into natural allies.
Nothing could be further from the truth. They don't want to be in your tribe. They're not ignorant about your tribe, they're quite well-informed. And frankly they hate your tribe and want to see it destroyed. They're quite aware that a slight majority of people with their skin color are in the other tribe, and they don't care.
Though I dearly love Steve as a man and a brother, I have to give this bout to Doug on points. We are, indeed, still fighting the Civil War. Perhaps we always have been.
Doug's* Tutsi-Hutu analogy is not bad either. If you think that intra-white conflict couldn't possibly descend to that level of savagery, I have a couple of wars and a few books I'd like to sell you.
What a pity that you have to go to internet comment threads for insights as penetrating, and debates as instructive as this. (Caplan's piece itself is mush.) You could watch thousands of hours of cable-TV bloviating or read hundreds of New York Times Op-Eds without encountering anything this close to the heart of the matter.
But that, of course, is one aspect of the problem . . .
*Possibly it's someone else's and Doug just borrowed it, I don't know.