Aut non licet mihi quod volo facere?
Or am I not allowed to do what I wish with mine own?
I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us!
Frederick Douglass, "What the Black Man Wants"
My father's family was all Scotch-Irish. Born in Searcy, Arkansas, his father was a Ross, and his mother was a Kelley. The names alone suggest the ethnic affiliation. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Surnames , "Ross" as a surname has at least four different derivations and affiliations [p.459]. Most common may be the use in Gaelic areas, although the word itself may be from Welsh or Briton rhós, meaning upland, moor, or headland. This is visible in Ross County, of Highland Scotland; and the line of Earls of Ross, originally associated with the County. The many Rosses, for instance, in Canada, are liable to mostly be these Highland Scottish Rosses. But there is also the Norman "Ross," from Rots near Caen in Normandy (perhaps from Germanic rod for "clearing"). From this came the Norman family "de Ros," which settled in Kent in 1130. With the Norman pentration of Lowland Scotland, including the de Rosses themselves, and the rise of the "Scots" language, a dialect of English, "Ross" became a name among Lowland Scots. Indeed, we find that the de Ros family married into Scottish royality and nobility (the Comyns).
Third is a straight German name, Ross, meaning "horse" (Roß, otherwise Pferd), Old High German hros, which became a name for people associated with horses or a place of horses, one way or another (identical in meaning to the Chinese surname ). Finally, there is a Jewish "Ross," which can either be from the German name or from another Jewish name, "Rose," from German Rose or Yiddish royz, "flower," Anglicized or Americanized to "Ross."
"Kelley" is a surname that looks entirely Irish, from Ó'Ceallaigh, perhaps meaning "son of war," "troublesome," or "contentious," although evidently some would like it to mean something more benign. Largely spelled as "Kelly" (or "O'Kelly"), the Oxford Dictonary says it is "the most common of all Ir. surnames" [p.292]. But the Dictionary also says the name can also be found in (Lowland) Scots, derived from Gaelic coille, "wood, grove," with a parallel name found in Devon from Cornish. It is thus possible that "Kelley" may have the same Lowland Scots origin as "Ross" and be a name, although Celtic, not derived directly from Irish.
The first attested use of the expresson "Scotch-Irish" is curiously in a 1573 document of no less than Queen Elizabeth I of England. Elizabeth was complaining that Scottish interlopers, who at the time were citizens of a foreign country, Scotland, were settling in Ireland, which was ruled by Elizabeth. This had been a problem for some time, and Queen Mary I had prohibited this Scottish immigration in 1556. Then James VI of Scotland (1567-1625) followed Elizabeth to rule England as James I (1603-1625). Now Scotland, England, and Ireland were all ruled by one monarch, and James countenanced the settlement of Prebyterian Scots in Northern Ireland, on the "Ulster Plantation," precisely to help against the rebellious Irish Catholics -- and Mary's prohibition was formally repealed in 1615. While the Scots in Elizabeth's complaint were mainly Highlanders, the settlement under James was largely from the Lowlands. This was a group of people in which names like "Ross" and "Kelly" could both be found.
The Scots in Ulster served the English cause well. When King James II was overthrown in 1688 in the "Glorious Revolution," he fled to France. Louis XIV then gave him French forces and in March 1689 landed him in Ireland, where he joined a rebellion against the new King William III of England and Scotland. From December 1688, Catholic forces were already beseiging the Protestants in Londonderry. The seige would not be lifted until August, 1689. William did not arrive in Ireland until 1690, when he utterly defeated the Catholics and James at the Battle of the Boyne, which now on the larger scale looks like just one event in the War of the League of Augsburg (1688-1697). But it meant the end of the Catholic and Jacobite cause in Ireland; and it is still celebrated every year, to the continuing fury of Catholics, by the Protestants of Ulster, who adopted the symbolic Orange of William's Dutch House. Since the flag of modern Ireland contains both green and orange stripes, we see some desire for reconciliation in the Irish Republic; but prospects for this remain dim.
Nevertheless, the Ulster Scots were betrayed by the English. Queen Anne's Test Act of 1703 stripped the Presbyterians of Ulster of political rights and even invalidated the marriages and other rites of the Presbyterian Chruch. The Act would not be modified until 1755 or repealed until 1782. Meanwhile, perhaps a third of the whole population of Protestants in Ulster had left for America. In the course of this, the Ulster Scots, who had lived there almost a century, simply regarded themselves as Irish. They even celebrated St. Patrick's Day, and they reserved their hostility and resentment far more for the English than for Irish Catholics. This did not serve the British well when it came to the American Revolution.
The use of the term "Scotch-Irish" is examined in detail in an appendix to The Scotch-Irish, A Social History, by James G. Leyburn [Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1962, "The Name 'Scotch-Irish'," pp.327-334]. As with its occurrence in the language of Queen Elizabeth, the expression was long used by others referring to Scots in Ireland or the Ulster Scots, despite, as noted, the Ulster Scots thinking of themselves as simply Irish. Leyburn has one reference of it being said that the Irish "call themselves Scotch-Irish" [p.330]; but, Leyburn says, "From the time of the Revolutionary War onward for a good part of a century the appellation 'Scotch-Irish' simply disppears from the record" [p.331]. The expression was revived, and self-applied, after large numbers of Irish Catholics began arriving in America as the result of the Potato Famine, 1845-1849. The Protestant Irish, now more Baptist and Methodist than Presbyterian, did not want to be associated with the unacculturated new arrivals. Also, there had come to be a certain prestige associated with Scotland, about which cultural and romantic stereotypes were much more positive -- even as the poor Irish Catholics were often portrayed in cartoons as baboons. Protestant America in general saw Irish Catholic immigrants as threatening in their habits and their religion. Thus, in response to this, there was a Scotch-Irish Congress in 1889, followed by the "Scotch-Irish Society of America," which published its Proceedings and Addresses from 1890-1900.
So the descendants of the Ulter Scots became, to themselves as to others, the "Scotch-Irish"; and they began to identify with the contemporary cause of the Ulster Protestants, celebrating Orange Day as they did, something that began to occasion clashes and riots between them and Irish Catholics in America.
A curious development in this respect is the recent decision of some that they don't like the form of the expression "Scotch-Irish" and prefer "Scots-Irish." We see an explanation of this by Jim Webb, in his Born Fighting, How the Scots-Irish Shaped America [Broadway, Books, 2004, 2007]:
In Ireland, they [the Scotch-Irish] would always be remembered as a hybrid, the Ulster Scots. In America, they would gain a new hyphen, becoming known as the Scotch-Irish, and also by the more ethnically proper term, the Scots-Irish. Although the term Scotch-Irish is still frequently used inside the United States, in other countries and especially in Scotland itself it is considered rude to refer to a person as being Scotch. "Scotch," as they say, is a whiskey. "Scots" are people whose roots go back to Scotland. This book honors that judgment. [p.119, color added]
Now, part of this may simply be false. Webb says that the Scotch-Irish were "also" called the "Scots-Irish"; but Leyburn's examination of the history of the expression "Scotch-Irish" does not note any uses of "Scots-Irish." Nor does Webb quote any himself. Thus, "Scots-Irish" seems to be a recent neologism, which Webb or others have decided is "more ethnically proper." In other words, it is politically correct, like "Inuit" instead of "Eskimo," "Kung!" instead of "Bushmen," or "Native American" ("First Nations" in Canada) instead of "Indian." However, Webb's own examination of the spirit of the Scotch-Irish highlights their deep hostility to anything sounding like the elite and effete pedantry of his own justification for "Scots-Irish." The worst thing about it may be that Webb "honors" the "judgment" of "other countries" that the word "Scotch" is somehow misused in the traditional American expression. Those folk at the "Scotch-Irish Society of America" needed a good talking to. Really? We are supposed to care what "other countries" have to say about it? Does Webb agree with Supreme Court rulings that involve the "standards" of other countries to rule on Constitutional issues in the United States? I didn't think so. As Leyburn says on the first page of his book, "Scotch-Irish" is an "Americanism" [p.xi]. So Jim Webb no longer "honors" Americanism? I wonder. But we see that this "Americanism," as so often has happened, derived from usage in Britain that subsequently lapsed. The Scots have forgotten how "Scotch" was used, not Americans.
Nor is "Scotch-Irish" the only example of Webb pulling this sort of thing. We also find him saying:
Londonderry -- historically and more properly known as Derry, still a sore point among many Irish... [p.104, color added]
Well, it's a "sore point" among Irish Catholics, not Protestants. Which is just the point. Protestants call it "Londonderry," and if Webb were to go to Northern Ireland and start telling people that "Derry" is what is "proper," he might be wined and dined by Catholics, but he is not going to like the reaction he will get from his own "Ulster Scots." What he thinks he is doing is thus bewildering.
Wherever Webb has gotten this stuff and has decided to think this way -- Queen Elizabeth obviously didn't get the memo on "Scotch-Irish" -- it is simply outrageous and infuriating. And it is corrupting. J.D. Vance, in his moving Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis [HarperCollins, 2016], has fallen for the fiction that "Scots-Irish" is simply the "proper" term to use. And Webb's own explanation isn't entirely coherent. "Scotch," like "Scottish," is an adjective. "Scot" and "Scots" are nouns. "Irish" can be either a noun or adjective. So "Scotch-Irish" means those Irish people who are somehow also Scottish. "Scots-Irish," however, puts two nouns together. Scots who are also Irish. You can do that, but it is not quite the same kind of expression. And it is not true that "Scotch" is just "a whiskey" (an adjective becoming a noun there). Butterscotch is a flavor, one of my favorites, as it happens. Perhaps they don't have that in Scotland, any more than they have Scotch-Irish people there. So I don't know what Jim Webb's problem is, or whoever started this, but it goes against everything else he says about Scotch-Irish culture, attitudes, and habits.
For, whether we are back in the Scottish Presbyterian "Kirk," or with the Ulster Scots fighting Catholics or resisting the English, their spirit is resistance and the rejection of imposed authority. This was immediately manifest in America, when Scotch-Irish immigrants quickly took to the hills, often in the face of hostility from the older colonial establishments. From Pennsylvania down to Georgia, the Appalachians loomed in the West. The new immigrants didn't go there because they wanted jobs in the coal mines. There would not be such mines for many years. What they wanted was independence, living on their own land on their own terms. Virginia, which had an Established Church, the Church of England, and prohibited the rites of others, nevertheless conceded that the Scotch-Irish could be Presbyterians off in their mountains, as long as they stayed there. They did, except to keep moving south along the mountains themselves.
Eventually they inhabited the mountains all the way down. In this, they manfested a certain restlessness, while the German settlers in Pennsylvania, for instance, were content to stay where they were. And after covering the mountains through Virginia (and in West Virginia, as it split off during the Civil War), Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia, they still kept going, further West. Thus, when we think of the mountain culture now, of hillbillies and rednecks, it isn't just the Appalachians, it is the Ozarks in Missouri and Arkansas. My own Scotch-Irish family, as you can see in the diagram, can be traced back at least to North Carolina, and it then moves through Tennessee and Missouri, ultimately to Arkansas -- with the Rosses briefly trying out Georgia, then leaving. But, curiously, neither Jim Webb nor J.D. Vance, mentions the Ozarks -- despite the iconic popularity of Branson, Missouri, for Country Music. Also, Scotch-Irish Presbyterians soon converted almost entirely to be Baptists and Methodists. I am descended from two Methodist Ministers, John W. Ross and John David Kelley.
Heading for the mountains meant that clashes between Protestant Scotch-Irish and Catholic Irish would begin to fade away. Irish Catholics tended to remain in urban areas and had little interest in the mountains. So the two groups literally separated, and because of that the Scotch-Irish had less occasion to actually remember themselves that way. They ceased to be Scotch or Irish and began to simply be identified with their States or with America. Except, of course, during the Civil War, when a fair number identified with the Confederacy, while others did not. In fact, they were deeply divided. West Virginia had such heavy Unionist sentiment that it broke away from Virginia and was admitted as a new State to the Union -- its star was added to the Flag on July 4, 1863, just as Robert E. Lee was defeated at Gettysburg and U.S. Grant had taken Vicksburg. Unionist sentiment was so strong in Eastern Tennessee and the mountains of North Carolina that Abraham Lincoln worried through the whole War how to get help to them; and he made Andrew Johnson, a Tennessee Unionist, Vice President for his second term.
Few Scotch-Irish owned slaves. This went back to the nature of their settlement and aspirations. There were really no large, slave-holding plantations in the mountains. The Scotch-Irish wanted small farms -- Jefferson's own ideal of independent yeoman farmers for the Republic -- and that's what they got. But the opportunities there were limited. Perhaps that is why so many of them moved on. And there were other problems. Drink and violence, including domestic violence, were a problem early on. And Scotch-Irish farmers just did not seem as industrious as, say, German farmers, although part of that may have been the land itself. The hollows of Appalachia or the Ozarks were not going to be as good for agriculture as plains, let alone the Great Plains -- where my maternal great-grandfather Ernst Werner settled and prospered. Also, the Scotch-Irish were missing something that is conspicuous in all the most successful ethnic groups in American history: Entrepreneurial habits. Successful groups start businesses. In a way, it is that simple. The Dutch and Huguenots started businesses. In 19th century America, we see Jews, Germans, Chinese, Japanese, and Italians starting businesses. In recent America, we see people from India, Korea, and Armenia starting businesses. Americans from India now are the most prosperous ethnic group in the country, as this is tracked by Census records -- Jews may actually be the most prosperous, but the Census does not ask about religion. Thus, in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein joked that Chinese exiles dropped on the Moon started by selling rocks to each other. Only violence had driven the Chinese out of the Gold Fields in California and confined them to Chinatowns. As Mark Twain said, "A disorderly Chinaman is rare, and a lazy one does not exist." The same could not be said about the Scotch-Irish.
In the Civil War, then, the Scotch-Irish were not fighting for slavery, or against it. Southern sympathizing historian Shelby Foote relates an anecdote, where a Union soldier asked a Confederate prisoner why he was fighting, and the answer was, "Because ya'll are down here." However, in Jim Webb this becomes an embarrassing apologia for Confederate soldiers and for the Confederacy itself. What Webb overlooks is that, slavery or no slavery, no Southerners to speak of wanted equality with blacks. Until quite late, Abraham Lincoln himself (like Jefferson) thought that freed slaves should and would go back to Africa; and in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Lincoln had denied that he was in favor of any equality or citizenship for blacks. In those terms, the policies of Andrew Johnson should have been no surprise. He allowed the restoration of Confederate governments in the Southern States and had no problem with them depriving freed slaves of citizenship. Southern Unionists were often, if not typically, no less racist than the Secessionists. Segregation was in fact, for them, the happy solution, even when the Republicans got rid of Johnson and passed the 14th and 15th Amendments, which supposedly secured citizenship, equal rights, and voting rights for freed slaves. The States that Johnson had allowed back in the Union on their own terms were required to accept the Amendments before being readmitted. Enforcement was another matter.
This is wholly distorted by Jim Webb. He seems to think that racism was the result of Yankee insults and revenge during Reconstruction, the manipulation of Northern Capitalists, and the parallel manipulation by Southern ruling elites. This doesn't explain the massacres of blacks carried out during the War by Southern troops. As Sherman marched through Georgia, slaves ran away to follow his army. The Confederates, who did not have the forces to challenge Sherman directly, nevertheless could murder the blacks trailing along behind him. Webb says, "to tar the sacrifices of the Confederate soldier as simple acts of racism... is one of the great blasphemies of our modern age" [p.225]; but acts like the slaughter of runaway slaves or the infamous Fort Pillow Massacre reveal the racist (and blasphemous) heart of the Southern Cause -- which Grant truthfully called "one of the worst causes ever." It is unlikely that Scotch-Irish Confederates, as even Scotch-Irish Unionsts, were free from this racism. Webb is so much out of his reckoning here that he complains, "Confederate veterans were not allowed federal benefits for their wartime service" [pp.243-244]. Really? The United States government was supposed to pay "benefits" to people who had treasonously taken up arms against the United States of America? "Thank you for your service in attacking America and enslaving and murdering black people." This is preposterous.
Webb wants the Confederates and their Segregationist successors to be victims. At one point, he refers to Reconstruction as going on for "thirty years" [p.240], when it was ended early in 1877, after not much more than ten years. After that, the Southern States were free to institute Jim Crow laws and Segregation, including the disarmament of black citizens. It took a while to get it all in place, sometimes right to the turn of the Century; but it was a regime of violence and terror, with lynchings reaching a peak in the 1890's, when blacks began to flee to the North. Webb says:
Tales are rife from this period of the Northern occupier actively encouraging public ridicule of and personal attacks upon former Confederate soldiers by free slaves. Predicatably, such actions were met with brutal retaliatory attack in the dead of night designed to intimidate both the hated Yankees and the African-American instruments of their revenge. [p.244]
The falsehood of this, whatever the truth of "public ridicule," etc. is that Southern violence was not "retaliatory" but simply continued from the outrages and crimes of the War. President Grant suppressed it the best he could, sometimes with Martial Law, but when he was gone there was nothing to stop it. Also, Webb acts like Northern hatred of the South simply continued from then on. This ignores the Turn of the Century sympathy and romanticism for the Southern Cause that became popular even in the North, reaching a peak with the bigotted President Woodrow Wilson and the revival, with his blessing, of the Ku Klux Klan, which had been destroyed by Grant (although that did not stop official and unofficial violence). For a time, the Klan was popular across much of the country, and pliant historians belittled, denigrated, or demonizing Grant and Sherman, if not Lincoln himself. This was still going on when I was a child in the 1950's, and negative characterizations of Grant continue even now.
But with Webb it gets worse, bringing us back to the problem of the Scotch-Irish. During the whole period of Segregation, the Southern States were the poorest in the nation. Segregationists did not want the competition of black labor or business, but then they didn't know what to do with the freedom that they had denied to blacks. The South was the source of few innovative business ventures (although there were some), or much business to speak of at all. But Webb wants to blame it on Capitalism. The Northern Carpetbagger Capitalists bought up Southern Industry and exploited the workers for their own profit from then on:
Most of those who came south eventually left, although they did so with their ownership of the Southern economy firmly in place so that their businesses could be controlled from outside the region, thereby sucking generations of profits out of the South and into their own communities. [p.244]
I don't know what he is talking about. The problem in the South was the lack of business. And even if Carpetbaggers had bought up all the business and industry in the South, that could not stop Southeners from starting their own businesses, especially when local governments were firmly in the hands of the locals (i.e. local white Segregationists). But that is exactly what did not happen, just because of the absence of an entrepreneurial tradition from just about everyone in the South.
Incredibly, Webb thinks that the Populists were the great hope of economic progress and racial amity. He details the Populist program:
All of these were bad ideas, with only the most outlandish ones (1 and 6) failing to come into effect. Webb says that Populism's "principal goal was the full democraticization of both the economy and the social classes..." [p.248]. He seems to regard this as a good idea, even though "economic democracy" is now the motto of outright socialists and communists. But the direct election of Senators simply removed the leverage of State governments on the Federal government; a "graduated income tax" was a proposal of the Communist Manifesto that would enable government to "redistribute" wealth from the rich to the minions of government; "civil service reform" meant it would be impossible to fire incompetent bureaucrats and teachers, or to hold them at all answerable for their insolence, arrogance, and condescension towards the citizens; and "an eight-hour workday" meant that the government would assume the power regulate wages and hours, beyond the Constitutional authority of the Federal government, which now, with a "minimum wage," can price the young and the poor right out of the labor market.
The complaints about national banks and transportation both go back to something that Webb touches indirectly, in terms of the antecedents of Populism being the "Granger movement" and the "Farmers' Alliance of the 1880s" [p.247]. Farmers go into debt because they borrow a lot, and if a crop fails, they can't pay back the loan. Then the great innovation for farming in the later 19th century was that crops could be shipped out by rail, shrinking the practical distance between Midwestern farms and Eastern consumers; so farmers had to deal with the railroads. Naturally, farmers then didn't like the banks very much and didn't like the railroads very much, since they didn't like being in debt and would always have liked to pay less for shipping. They therefore supported inflation, either through the Greenback Party or Free Silver, which would reduce their debts. And they really didn't like the deflation of the era, which increased their debts. And they supported the price fixing of the Progressive-inspired Interstate Commerce Commission. The irony of the Populist demands about the banks and transportation is that the banks were already part of a federal system, while the demand now was for government control of one, the railroads, that they wanted abolished for the other, the banks. They couldn't quite make up their minds whether government control was good or bad.
So one begins to wonder what Jim Webb, who was elected as a Republican Senator from Virginia, is all about. He has recourse, not just to apologiae for the Confederacy, but to Progressive, Democrat, and Leftist talking points on economics. The problem with farming is that increases in productivity require increasing capitalization and inevitably reduce the number of farmers -- a process that was painful in both the 1920's and the 1970's, despite the subsidies and protections put in the place in the (Progressive) New Deal. We all know about farmers being paid not to plant crops, even while people were going hungry, and how these payments ended up going to millionaries who never had any intention of farming. And the truth about the Southern economy is that they did it to themselves, long after Reconsruction.
Jim Webb begins to sound like one of the Southerners who became a Republican, carrying along a great deal of Democrat, Segregationist, and New Deal baggage. Indeed, we see that the income tax, direct election of Senators, and legislation on wages and hours was all on the Progressive progam brought into effect by the Segregationist Woodrow Wilson and then in the New Deal from Franklin Roosevelt. Webb, like a lot of Establishment and RINO Republicans, displays no problem with any of that. Indeed, we have a long panegyric on the wonders of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal for the South -- "Roosevelt was a godsend" [p.277] -- by which we learn that federal spending, and perhaps especially military spending, is the royal road to economic prosperity. Webb is thus the kind of Establishment Republican who thinks that the New Deal was both necessary and good but, in any case, something that it would be political suicide to denounce. This is appalling.
Just how confused Webb is we can see in the case of Kentucky and West Virginia. These were Unionist States who endured no Reconstruction. But it turned out that they had coal. So here come the "ever-hungry industrialists" such that "the rape began" [p.251]. According to Webb, "Coal made this part of Appalachia a poverty-stricken basket case while the rest of the mountain region remained mired in isolation" [pp.251-252]. I'm not sure this is even coherent. It seems like coal is the only industry that has ever existed in some of these areas. It is not an easy life, but it is hardly what "made his part of Appalachia a poverty-stricken basket case." It was that way already, and Webb seems to admit that "the rest of the mountain region" was not affected by it. The whole area had always been "mired in isolation"; and the paradigmatic Scotch-Irish feud, between the Hatfields and the McCoys (whose legal complications stretched all the way to the Supreme Court), was conducted across the Kentucky-West Virginia State line.
What kind of Republican, libertarian, or free-marketer writes the way Webb does? Is Webb grateful that the Obama Administration determined to destroy the coal industry, such that Hillary Clinton at one point actually exulted about how many people were going to lose their jobs in the business (awkwardly trying to walk it back when confronted with actual coal workers)? How did he think that coal would be developed without industrialists and capitalists getting involved? Does he think that everyone would have been better off without coal mines? As with some of his other comments, the result is bewildering.
A more honest and revealing treatment is in J.D. Vance. Here, at ground level, we have the cultural characteristics of the Scotch-Irish, with the drinking, substance abuse, violence, domestic violence, broken homes, lack of ambition, and the unchanging rural life back in the hollows. Vance's grandparents got out, moving to industrial jobs in Ohio, drawing Vance and some of his family with them. Later, Vance laments the deindustrialization in Ohio, by which the good jobs of the 1950's disappeared. What he never observes is that no one in his extended family started a business -- not even to sell rocks to each other. They all wait around for others to provide jobs; or they get some professional training, as his mother became a nurse, but then blow their chances on drug abuse and domestic chaos. Vance himself, who found some stability and focus with his grandparents, joined the Marines, went to college, and then ended up at Yale Law School. Significantly, this was a professional rather than an entrepreneurial track, although Vance now is associated with an "investment firm," which must mean he can make judgments about capital -- not a skill we would expect anyone to learn either at Yale Law School or back in the hallows in Kentucky. But Vance was sensible of the habits and culture he needed to overcome in order to have a successful and stable life.
J.D. Vance's story touches on a sore point that is avoided by Jim Webb and dreaded by elite opinion in the United States, which is that the lack of economic success of many people is the result of their own habits. Webb clearly is loathe to acknowledge this:
In many eyes, white poverty was attributed to cultural inferiority rather than the generations of Yankee colonialism that had produced it.... [p.280]
Lack of an entrepreneurial tradition can be called "inferiority" if what we regard as "superior" are customs that lead to economic success. But Webb obviously prefers another explanation, "colonialism," which puts him in the same camp as Al Gore explaining Third World poverty as the result of "exploitation" shipping out "natural resources." As it happens, this is exactly how Webb sees it, with the profits of "natural resources" denied to the deserving (i.e. entitled) Southern populace, thus resorting to a cargo cult form of economics by which the South would have been rich from their own precious natural resources if those Yankee companies had not been controlling them.
Thomas Sowell has treated these issues extensively, as in Ethnic America  and more recently in Black Rednecks and White Liberals . Webb, obviously, but even Vance, fails to see the differences between their own cultural backgrounds and that of entrepreneurial groups like Jews, Chinese, (India) Indians, or Armenians. They are still thinking that somehow the government can make this all good. But government cannot do what a childhood by your parents' cash register will do. Truthful exhortation may actually do more than what government can do, but elite opinion has become contemptuous of American success stories. Everyone knows it was all a lie. There was really no Henry Ford who put America on wheels with a $300 car. And I have examined how living Vanderbilts now have no clue how the success of Cornelius could possibly be repeated, although it has been many times, and quite recently (which is why no Vanderbilt is as rich as they used to be). Neither Webb or Vance mention, although they might have, how Sam Walton went from one little store in Arkansas -- in the midst of Yankee colonialism -- to building the largest retailer in the country, beating out Sears, K-Mart, and many others. Nor was that anything new. In 1916 Clarence Saunders opened the first Piggly Wiggly market in Memphis, Tennessee. This was the first "self-service" food store, where customers picked their own choices off of shelves, collecting them in a basket, rather than giving a list to a clerk who collected everything, while the customer waited. Saunders' idea was wildly successful, but then we know what those Yankees were going to do about it. By 1932, when Piggly Wiggly had spread across the country, Saunders was forced out of the company by investors (i.e. Yankees) -- like what happened to Steve Jobs, come to think of it. Perhaps he should not have gone public.
My own chance at the good life goes back to one of the Arkansas Kelleys. In 1914, R. Leslie "Les" Kelley, my great uncle, took off from Arkansas for California. What got into him I've never seen explained. I've never gathered what he started doing in California, but he made enough money to start attending the University of Southern California, and to buy a car. He told me himself that when you bought a car then, it was a case of "some assembly required." Once Les had finished his own car, a friend asked him to assemble his. This gave Les an idea. Buy a bunch of cars, get them ready, and sell them directly to the public. This was the beginning of Les Kelley Ford, and the Kelley Kar Company for used cars. By 1918, Les had a going business. This went on for forty years, headquartered at the corner of Pico and Figuroa in Los Angeles, where the Los Angeles Convention Center is now. In the used car business, people began asking him about the values of used cars. He started producing a list of prices. This grew into the Kelley Blue Book. After the War, Les hired my father, first as a salesman and then to work on the Blue Book. Which my father did the rest of his life, long after the car dealerships had been liquidated and even after Les had sold the Blue Book itself. As a child, I only remember once visiting the offices at Pico and Figuroa. I was too young to grasp what was going on.
Like J.D. Vance (or Isaac Asimov) I ended up following a professional rather than a business track. I got interested in philosophy and ended up with an academic career. My education was partially funded by R. Leslie Kelley. I love teaching and I cannot but honor the value of philosophy in the long run; but at the same time, I never provided anyone with a job or provided a good or service that immediately made anyone's lives healthier or materially richer.
When my own ethnic derivation is, on my father's side, from the Scotch-Irish; and it turns out that the Scotch-Irish, to the extent that they can still be identified, are one of the poorest ethnic groups in America, thanks to the residence of so many of them in Appalachia and the Ozarks, I am reminded of the bias of American politics. While Lyndon Johnson's original "War on Poverty" was supposed to target Appalachia as much as inner cities, furor over the poverty of "people of color" continues, but the mountain people are forgetten. Instead, they are ridiculed and despised. "Hillbillies" and "rednecks" are not only ignorant, incestuous, toothless idiots, zonked out on Oxycontin, but they are also nasty bigoted homophobic, sexist racists.
Of course, the War on Poverty wasn't going to make much of a difference for very many (except the bureaucrats working for it); and the mentality that went along with it has only made things much, much worse in places like Detroit, Baltimore, and Chicago. But neither Jim Webb nor J.D. Vance have quite the right idea. The issue is a moral one, whether it was the violence and crime of the Irish Catholics, or of inner city minorities, or the various dysfunctions of the Scotch-Irish detailed by Vance. Interventions by government are almost always things to protect people from the consequences of their own actions. That gets the votes. But it creates an economic "moral hazard" that subsidizes, incentivizes, and effectively encourages all the destructive, criminal, and self-destructive cultural behaviors and habits. This turned large parts of Detroit into a wasteland of crime, neglect, and abandonment. But Webb, clearly, is still thinking that this was the way to do it.
Thus, curiously, the fate of the Scotch-Irish, who are barely noticed in American public discourse and are the targets of ridicule and vilification when they are, is the veritable weathervane of the future of America. My own place in that, for all the value that I see in my own career and work, still displays a deficiency in entrepreneuralism. But because Les Kelley left Arkansas for California, I was at least able to enjoy an active and rewarding professonal life. Whether my career in philosophy was truly valuable for others remains to be seen.
Leander "Lee" Ross
I am a Union Man
The Werners of the Grand Duchy of Baden
Ethnic Prejudice, Stereotypes, Discrimination, and the Free Market
History of Philosophy