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Rural Radicals: Righteous Rage in the American Grain
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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A historian at Connecticut College, Stock identifies a long-standing strain of extremist rage in the rural heartland of America which informs the current right-wing militia groups, the survivalists, and the Christian Identity zealots. She suggests that ignorance and denial of this cultural are what made the Oklahoma bombing such a shock. She cites examples like Nathaniel Bacon's rebel group in colonial days, and the uprising led by Daniel Shays in Pennsylvania in George Washington's time, as exemplars of hatred of federal authority and federal taxes, and of an ugly rural cultural isolationism. In time, fed by economic insecurity, gun craziness, and crude machismo, this would manifest itself in hatred of Indians, blacks, Mormons, Mexicans, and Asians--an enduring contradiction of American idealism.
From Publishers Weekly
How is it that whites from the rural heartland, long romanticized in popular culture as the salt of the American earth, have come to make up the United States' most violent domestic terrorist movements, including militias, Identity Christians and other "hate radicals"? In the wake of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, allegedly the work of blue-eyed Timothy McVeigh, historian Stock has attempted to trace the lineage of today's extremist white rural politics. She draws clear links between contemporary hate groups and a long tradition of rural political movements characterized by a fierce commitment to the rights of small landowners and family farmers, and by a culture of vigilantism. This tradition has never fit into urban categories of left and right. As far back as colonial times, she points out, rural Americans have organized simultaneous opposition, often violent, to elite Eastern landowners and elite Eastern government: such high-school textbook examples as Shays's Rebellion, the Whisky Rebellion and the Grange movement are just a few illustrations of the point. Rural Radicals is a wild ride, particularly for readers yet unfamiliar with the recent trend in history of conducting research from the perspective of less powerful groups; yet it vividly demonstrates the value of this approach. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The author distinguishes between producer radicalism and vigilantism. The former category is much concerned with economic issues from unfair land laws and practices, distant and unresponsive legislatures, burdensome taxation, judicial favoring of creditors, and monopolistic businesses, especially railroads. The Populists of the late 1800s are the prime example of producer radicals. Vigilantism shares some of these same concerns, but is slanted towards external forces or people who are seen to be a threat to a closed way of life. In some cases, as in pre-revolutionary North Carolina, vigilantes have operated against criminal elements in the absence of effective law enforcement but have been far more likely to identify and inflict harm on scapegoats along racial, ethnic, religious, and political lines. The KKK is perhaps the foremost example of a vigilante group.
The author trys to convince that producer radicalism and vigilantism are two sides of the same coin. This reviewer does not find that the case is made. The Populists had legitimate complaints and found responsible ways of expressing them. They did not hate the federal government, even advocating for the nationalization of some industries. Some of their platform was adopted during the Progressive Era. Vigilantes in lieu of operating from any careful analysis of their situation seem to cling to wild conspiracy theories usually involving the federal government and then proceed to select vulnerable victims to assuage their frustrations. These are not the virtuous citizens of producer radicalism.
The book is a very good survey of the various rural radical groups through our nation's history. While I do not agree with a central tenet of the book, maybe others would. In any event the book is quite worthwhile.