Quotable (#89)

Charles Murray on the primordial diversity of colonial America:

Historian David Hackett Fischer’s magisterial Albion’s Seed describes how the British came to America in four streams. From East Anglia came the Puritans seeking freedom to practice their religion. They settled first in Massachusetts. By the time of the Revolution, they had spread throughout New England and into the eastern part of New York and had become known as Yankees. […] From the south of England came the Cavaliers, who had lost out during the English Civil War, accompanied by large numbers of impoverished English who signed contracts to work as their indentured servants. The first wave settled in Virginia’s tidewater, and the second around the Chesapeake Bay. They spread southward through the tidewater regions of the Carolinas and Georgia. […] From the North Midlands came the Quakers, who, like the Puritans, were seeking a place to practice their religion unmolested. They settled first in the Delaware Valley and then spread throughout eastern and central Pennsylvania, with some of them drifting southward to Maryland and northern Virginia. […] The fourth group came from Scotland and the northern border counties of England. Some of them arrived directly from their ancestral homelands, but the great majority arrived in the New World after an extended stopover in the north of Ireland — hence the label by which we know them, the Scots-Irish. They landed in Philadelphia but quickly made their way west on the Great Wagon Road to settle the Appalachian frontier running from west-central Pennsylvania to northeast Georgia.

The four groups did indeed share a common culture insofar as they had all come from a single nation with a single set of political, legal, and economic institutions. But our topic is cultural diversity as it affects the different ways in which Americans think about what it means to “live life as one sees fit.” That consists of what I will call quotidian culture: the culture of everyday life. In terms of quotidian culture, the four streams shared the English language, barely. They differed on just about everything else, often radically.

Murray, of course, sees “living life as one sees fit” in contemporary America as something close to a lost cause.

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