Tuesday, January 21, 2014


jamesrmaclean | Sectionalism has been used in two closely related senses. One refers to a regional division, such as a group of states (i.e., divisions of a country) or provinces. The other refers to a division of society that makes its money a certain way. The two concepts are closely related, since sectional divisions of a country usually correspond to reliable generalizations as to the source of each section's wealth.

Sectional interests often come into conflict, but typically the parties involved are aware of the unlikelihood of a victory in open struggle. There are a few historical cases in which sectionalism has erupted into civil war; this site takes the position that most allegedly "ethnic" or "sectarian" conflicts are actually sectional conflicts caused by a breakdown of sectional comity.

In the United States
The obvious example of a sectional conflict is the one that raged between the CSA and the northern states, or residual of the United States. Here, the most compelling difference between the two sections was that one relied heavily on slavery, while the other found slavery threatening. More schematically, one relied on the endless expansion of exactly the same system (gangs of slaves working on freshly cleared land to produce the same cash crop in ever-greater volume); the other was a diversified economy which ranged from semi-subsistence farming to large-scale industrial enterprise. The "sections" of the Union advanced fundamentally incompatible claims to the vast amounts of territory that the USA either bought, seized, or divided. Even when significant numbers of actual slaves were not present (Kansas) or never could be (as was alleged with New Mexico and Arizona), the dividing sectional principle was too basic to be resolved peacefully. A crucial claim of the Southern partisans was that, regardless of the merits of slavery, restrictions on slavery in the territories (or, for that matter, the states themselves) represented a violation of the equal protection of Southern slaveowners per se. Under slavery, captive humans in servitude were capital, but if slavery was illegal in a territory—or even in a neighboring state—then one type of capitalist was not allowed in. And while the great majority of Whites in the South owned few or no slaves, slaveowners were the politically decisive class.[1]

The North also had sectional interests, ones that bound the East with the West: the industrial system that united them depended on a much costlier system of public works, public education, and governmental regulation. Slavery typically faired best in cases where law enforcement was cheap and crude, and dominated entirely by slaveowners. In industrial systems where there was rapid innovation and complex networks of contracts, patents, public services, and technical competition from established foreign companies. The most obvious example was tariff policy and public improvements, but additional issues concerned the nationalization of state debts, federal control over banking and securities, and land policy.[2] The fundamental difference was that the survival of the Northern economy required a reliable foundation for rapid technological innovation and implementation, while the South was highly sensitive to cost. Moreover, the South was threatened by the relative rise of the North as a political counterweight.

After the Civil War, the sectional interests shifted somewhat. The South was still hypersensitive to costs, such as taxes and rising wages; the North was still responding to rapid changes in technology and high fixed costs for plants. But Southern planters could no longer control the entire political structure as easily as before; there were now rival bases of political power (between 1868 and 1898, African American voters were such a base). At the same time, the interests in the North who had demanded a strong government hand in the economy to ensure the creation of power industrial corporations, by the end of Reconstruction, were increasingly at swords points with the burgeoning populism of their workforce and small farmers. Tariffs were high, but labor was militant and populist democracy was corrupt; while the robber barons had tended to champion a strong government leading up to the Grant Administration, and bribed the one they had on a prodigious scale, they were faced with a sinkhole of malfeasance.[3] In response, they favored the creation of the firm as surrogate to the state: the modern industrial corporation. This was to be the ultimate counterforce to social democracy in the United States, and it meshed with the sectional interests of the planters. Not only could planters form a permanent coalition with the corporate elites to defeat social democratic legislation at the federal level, they could also continue to use their rising economic hegemony as a unifying enemy for poor Southern Whites. The South remained totally dominated by one political party (the Democrats) until the late 1960's, but in Southern states the party actually housed multiple rival factions; the politically conservative faction sided with Northern Republicans, while the populist faction sided with the (weak) Northern Democrats.

Since the time of the Civil Rights Movement, sectional alignments have evolved further; they still have a decidedly economic orientation, with the Democratic Party corresponding to industry and the Republican Party corresponding to resource extraction, farming, financial services, and business management. Casual observers usually assume the Democratic Party is liberal (and hypocritical), while the Republican Party is conservative (and sincere). In reality, both parties are conservative, but oriented towards different sectional interests. The Democratic Party favors public education, public works, and a robust regulatory regime; the Republican Party sometimes claims it does also, but its position towards all three is hectoring and unsupportive. The Republican Party, in turn, favors minimal government role in the economy, and a compensatory maximal role of the state in enforcing market incentives. These are compatible with the "night watchman state" popular among extractive industries such as factory farming, mining, and fossil fuels; and the punitive enforcement of incentives popular with financial services and business management (as a separate political section).


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