American Character by Colin Woodard

American Character

American Character by Colin Woodard is a book that examines the epic struggle between individual liberty and the common good in the United States. It’s the sequel to American Nations.

Woodard traces this struggle through four centuries of American history, from the first colonies to the present day. He explores how different regions of the country have successfully or disastrously accommodated these two key strands in American politics.

Woodard argues that maintaining a liberal democracy requires finding a balance between protecting individual liberty and nurturing a free society.

He takes readers on a journey through four centuries of struggle, experimentation, successes and failures to provide an answer. He also provides historically informed and pragmatic suggestions on how to achieve this balance and break the nation’s political deadlock.

Woodard divides North America into 11 nations based on settlement. He explains how people came from different places and often traveled in family or neighbor groups, mainly from Great Britain.

American Character by Colin Woodard 1

He also discusses the values of the Deep South, which was founded by Barbados slave lords in Charleston, South Carolina, and spread apartheid and authoritarianism throughout the region.

He further explains how the Deep South has formed an uneasy coalition with Appalachia and Tidewater nations in the 1870s, and is locked in an epic battle with Yankeedom and its Left Coast and New Netherlands allies for the future of the federation (all explained in American Nations).

Woodard’s ideal is that a reliable majority in seven of the nine major regional cultures—Yankeedom, New Netherlands, the Midlands, Tidewater, El Norte, the Far West and the Left Coast—come together, guaranteeing an even larger proportion of the electoral college and Senate, thus isolating the Deep South and portions of Appalachia that agree with them.

He believes that this “supermajority” would be capable of moving the country forward over the objections of its most authoritarian region.

It provides a fascinating look at the history of the nation and offers useful insights into how to achieve a balance between protecting individual liberty and nurturing a free society.

What I Liked

I loved how clear and approachable the book it. It’s rigorous political science, but he defly uses storytelling and known history to make bigger points about American politics.

What I Did Not Like

Not a whole lot – however, he didn’t really address the plot twist where Appalachia and Deep South continue growing in population and electoral strength and where Yankeedom and the Left Coast do everything possible to alienate El Norte, Midlands, and especially the Far West. I think both current parties are still ripe to realign the different cultures, just as they realigned in the 1970s, 1930s, 1890s, 1850s, and 1810s – but it’s going to be different this time.

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