http://denbeste.nu/external/Mead01.html The National Interest Archives Fall 1985 to Present This is too long to present en toto. Read and comment. The Jacksonian Tradition by Walter Russell Mead In the last five months of World War II, American bombing raids claimed the lives of more than 900,000 Japanese civiliansnot counting the casualties from the atomic strikes against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is more than twice the total number of combat deaths that the United States has suffered in all its foreign wars combined. Why is it that U.S. public opinion is often so quickthough sometimes so slowto support armed intervention abroad? What are the provocations that energize public opinion (at least some of it) for warand how, if at all, is this "war lobby" related to the other elements of that opinion? The key to this warlike disposition, and to other important features of American foreign policy, is to be found in what I shall call its Jacksonian tradition, in honor of the sixth president of the United States. The School of Andrew Jackson It is a tribute to the general historical amnesia about American politics between the War of 1812 and the Civil War that Andrew Jackson is not more widely counted among the greatest of American presidents. Victor in the Battle of New Orleansperhaps the most decisive battle in the shaping of the modern world between Trafalgar and StalingradAndrew Jackson laid the foundation of American politics for most of the nineteenth century, and his influence is still felt today. With the ever ready help of the brilliant Martin Van Buren, he took American politics from the era of silk stockings into the smoke-filled room. Every political party since his presidency has drawn on the symbolism, the institutions and the instruments of power that Jackson pioneered. More than that, he brought the American people into the political arena. Restricted state franchises with high property qualifications meant that in 1820 many American states had higher property qualifications for voters than did boroughs for the British House of Commons. With Jacksons presidency, universal male suffrage became the basis of American politics and political values. His political movementor, more accurately, the community of political feeling that he wielded into an instrument of powerremains in many ways the most important in American politics. Solidly Democratic through the Truman administration (a tradition commemorated in the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners that are still the high points on Democratic Party calendars in many cities and states), Jacksonian America shifted toward the Republican Party under Richard Nixonthe most important political change in American life since the Second World War. The future of Jacksonian political allegiance will be one of the keys to the politics of the twenty-first century. Suspicious of untrammeled federal power (Waco), skeptical about the prospects for domestic and foreign do-gooding (welfare at home, foreign aid abroad), opposed to federal taxes but obstinately fond of federal programs seen as primarily helping the middle class (Social Security and Medicare, mortgage interest subsidies), Jacksonians constitute a large political interest. In some ways Jacksonians resemble the Jeffersonians, with whom their political fortunes were linked for so many decades. Like Jeffersonians, Jacksonians are profoundly suspicious of elites. They generally prefer a loose federal structure with as much power as possible retained by states and local governments. But the differences between the two movements run very deepso deep that during the Cold War they were on dead opposite sides of most important foreign policy questions. To use the language of the Vietnam era, a time when Jeffersonians and Jacksonians were fighting in the streets over foreign policy, the former were the most dovish current in mainstream political thought during the Cold War, while the latter were the most consistently hawkish. One way to grasp the difference between the two schools is to see that both Jeffersonians and Jacksonians are civil libertarians, passionately attached to the Constitution and especially to the Bill of Rights, and deeply concerned to preserve the liberties of ordinary Americans. But while the Jeffersonians are most profoundly devoted to the First Amendment, protecting the freedom of speech and prohibiting a federal establishment of religion, Jacksonians see the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, as the citadel of liberty. Jeffersonians join the American Civil Liberties Union; Jacksonians join the National Rifle Association. In so doing, both are convinced that they are standing at the barricades of freedom. For foreigners and for some Americans, the Jacksonian tradition is the least impressive in American politics. It is the most deplored abroad, the most denounced at home. Jacksonian chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are the despair of high-minded people everywhere, as they hold up adhesion to the Kyoto Protocol, starve the UN and the IMF, cut foreign aid, and ban the use of U.S. funds for population control programs abroad. When spokesmen for other schools of thought speak about the "problems" of American foreign policy, the persistence and power of the Jacksonian school are high on their list. While some of this fashionable despair may be overdone, and is perhaps a reflection of different class interests and values, it is true that Jacksonians often figure as the most obstructionist of the schools, as the least likely to support Wilsonian initiatives for a better world, to understand Jeffersonian calls for patient diplomacy in difficult situations, or to accept Hamiltonian trade strategies. Yet without Jacksonians, the United States would be a much weaker power. A principal explanation of why Jacksonian politics are so poorly understood is that Jacksonianism is less an intellectual or political movement than an expression of the social, cultural and religious values of a large portion of the American public. And it is doubly obscure because it happens to be rooted in one of the portions of the public least represented in the media and the professoriat. Jacksonian America is a folk community with a strong sense of common values and common destiny; though periodically led by intellectually brilliant menlike Andrew Jackson himselfit is neither an ideology nor a self-conscious movement with a clear historical direction or political table of organization. Nevertheless, Jacksonian America has producedand looks set to continue to produceone political leader and movement after another, and it is likely to continue to enjoy major influence over both foreign and domestic policy in the United States for the foreseeable future. The Evolution of a Community It is not fashionable today to think of the American nation as a folk community bound together by deep cultural and ethnic ties. Believers in a multicultural America attack this idea from one direction, but conservatives too have a tendency to talk about the United States as a nation based on ideology rather than ethnicity. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, among others, has said that the United States is unlike other nations because it is based on an idea rather than on a community of national experience. The continuing and growing vitality of the Jacksonian tradition is, for better or worse, living proof that she is at least partly wrong. If Jeffersonianism is the book-ideology of the United States, Jacksonian populism is its folk-ideology. Historically, American populism has been based less on the ideas of the Enlightenment than on the community values and sense of identity among the British colonizers who first settled this country. In particular, as David Hackett Fischer has shown, Jacksonian populism can be originally identified with a subgroup among these settlers, the so-called "Scots-Irish", who settled the back country regions of the Carolinas and Virginia, and who went on to settle much of the Old WestWest Virginia, Kentucky, parts of Indiana and Illinoisand the southern and south central states of Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. Jacksonian populism today has moved beyond its original ethnic and geographical limits. Like country music, another product of Jacksonian culture, Jacksonian politics and folk feeling has become a basic element in American consciousness that can be found from one end of the country to the other. What has happened is that Jacksonian culture, values and self-identification have spread beyond their original ethnic limits. In the 1920s and 1930s the highland, border tradition in American life was widely thought to be dying out, ethnically, culturally and politically. Part of this was the economic and demographic collapse of the traditional home of Jacksonian America: the family farm. At the same time, mass immigration from southern and Eastern Europe tilted the ethnic balance of the American population ever farther from its colonial mix. New England Yankees were a vanishing species, limited to the hills of New Hampshire and Vermont, while the cities and plains of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island filled with Irishmen, Italians, Portuguese and Greeks. The great cities of the United States were increasingly filled with Catholics, members of the Orthodox churches and Jewsall professing in one way or another communitarian social values very much at odds with the individualism of traditional Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Celtic culture. What came next surprised almost everyone. The tables turned, and Evans Americans "americanized" the immigrants rather than the other way around. In what is still a largely unheralded triumph of the melting pot, Northern immigrants gradually assimilated the values of Jacksonian individualism. Each generation of new Americans was less "social" and more individualistic than the preceding one. American Catholics, once among the worlds most orthodox, remained Catholic in religious allegiance but were increasingly individualistic in terms of psychology and behavior ("I respect the Pope, but I have to follow my own conscience"). Ties to the countries of emigration steadily weakened, and the tendency to marry outside the group strengthened. Outwardly, most immigrant groups completed an apparent assimilation to American material culture within a couple of generations of their arrival. A second type of assimilationan inward assimilation to and adaptation of the core cultural and psychological structure of the native populationtook longer, but as third, fourth and fifth-generation immigrant families were exposed to the economic and social realities of American life, they were increasingly "americanized" on the inside as well as without. This immense and complex process was accelerated by social changes that took place after 1945. Physically, the old neighborhoods broke up, and the Northern industrial working class, along with the refugees from the dying American family farm, moved into the suburbs to form a new populist mix. As increasing numbers of the descendants of immigrants moved into the Jacksonian Sunbelt, the pace of assimilation grew. The suburban homeowner with his or her federally subsidized mortgage replaced the homesteading farmer (on free federal land) as the central pillar of American populism. Richard Nixon, with his two-pronged appeal to white Southerners and the "Joe Six-pack" voters of the North, was the first national politician to recognize the power of this newly energized current in American life. Urban, immigrant America may have softened some of the rough edges of Jacksonian America, but the descendants of the great wave of European immigration sound more like Andrew Jackson from decade to decade. Rugged frontier individualism has proven to be contagious; each successive generation has been more Jacksonian than its predecessor. The social and economic solidarity rooted in European peasant communities has been overmastered by the individualism of the frontier. The descendants of European working-class Marxists now quote Adam Smith; Joe Six-pack thinks of the welfare state as an expensive burden, not part of the natural moral order. Intellectuals have made this transition as thoroughly as anyone else. The children and grandchildren of trade unionists and Trotskyites now talk about the importance of liberal society and free markets; in the intellectual pilgrimage of Irving Kristol, what is usually a multigenerational process has been compressed into a single, brilliant career. The new Jacksonianism is no longer rural and exclusively nativist. Frontier Jacksonianism may have taken the homesteading farmer and the log cabin as its emblems, but todays Crabgrass Jacksonianism sees the homeowner on his modest suburban lawn as the hero of the American story. The Crabgrass Jacksonian may wear green on St. Patricks Day; he or she might go to a Catholic Church and never listen to country music (though, increasingly, he or she probably does); but the Crabgrass Jacksonian doesnt just believe, she knows that she is as good an American as anybody else, that she is entitled to her rights from Church and State, that she pulls her own weight and expects others to do the same. That homeowner will be heard from: Ronald Reagan owed much of his popularity and success to his ability to connect with Jacksonian values. Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan in different ways have managed to tap into the power of the populist energy that Old Hickory rode into the White House. In both domestic and foreign policy, the twenty-first century will be profoundly influenced by the values and concerns of Jacksonian America. The Jacksonian Code To understand how Crabgrass Jacksonianism is shaping and will continue to shape American foreign policy, we must begin with another unfashionable concept: Honor. Although few Americans today use this anachronistic word, honor remains a core value for tens of millions of middle-class Americans, women as well as men. The unacknowledged code of honor that shapes so much of American behavior and aspiration today is a recognizable descendent of the frontier codes of honor of early Jacksonian America. The appeal of this code is one of the reasons that Jacksonian values have spread to so many people outside the original ethnic and social nexus in which Jacksonian America was formed. The first principle of this code is self-reliance. Real Americans, many Americans feel, are people who make their own way in the world. They may get a helping hand from friends and family, but they hold their places in the world through honest work. They dont slide by on welfare, and they dont rely on inherited wealth or connections. Those who wont work and are therefore poor, or those who dont need to work due to family money, are viewed with suspicion. Those who meet the economic and moral tests belong to the broad Middle Class, the folk community of working people that Jacksonians believe to be the heart, soul and spine of the American nation. Earning and keeping a place in this community on the basis of honest work is the first principle of Jacksonian honor, and it remains a serious insult even to imply that a member of the American middle class is not pulling his or her weight in the world. Jacksonian honor must be acknowledged by the outside world. One is entitled to, and demands, the appropriate respect: recognition of rights and just claims, acknowledgment of ones personal dignity. Many Americans will still fight, sometimes with weapons, when they feel they have not been treated with the proper respect. But even among the less violent, Americans stand on their dignity and rights. Respect is also due age. Those who know Jacksonian America only through its very inexact representations in the media think of the United States as a youth-obsessed, age-neglecting society. In fact, Jacksonian America honors age. Andrew Jackson was sixty-one when he was elected president for the first time; Ronald Reagan was seventy. Most movie stars lose their appeal with age; those whose appeal stems from their ability to portray and embody Jacksonian valueslike John Wayneonly become more revered. The second principle of the code is equality. Among those members of the folk community who do pull their weight, there is an absolute equality of dignity and right. No one has a right to tell the self-reliant Jacksonian what to say, do or think. Any infringement on equality will be met with defiance and resistance. Male or female, the Jacksonian is, and insists on remaining, independent of church, state, social hierarchy, political parties and labor unions. Jacksonians may choose to accept the authority of a leader or movement or faith, but will never yield to an imposed authority. The young are independent of the old: "free, white and twenty-one" is an old Jacksonian expression; the color line has softened, but otherwise the sentiment is as true as it ever was.