Suggested Reading: American Nations & Better Off Without ‘Em
American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America
In this 2011 book, journalist and author Colin Woodard presents a model of American regionalism that proposes what has been one of Cascadia Now!’s main claims – that the major divides that hinder “American” politics and are a source of such continual consternation are a function not of a simple two-party system, but of a complex and longstanding conflict between incompatible regional identities.
Woodard traces these regional identities back to the continent’s European colonization, a historical perspective that sets his book apart from other regionalist analyses of the United States, such as Joel Garreau’s classic 1981 book
The Nine Nations of North America, suggesting that these cultural differences, while continually evolving, predate contemporary state and national boundaries.
It is interesting that by North America,” Woodard means not just the United States, but also Canada and the northern portions of Mexico, providing another suggestion that these regional identities are not limited by arbitrary political borders, but by lived patterns of culture and geography. The “Left Coast” nation – which Woodard characterizes as a mix of idealism and individualism – fills much of the same area as Cascadia, but includes more of California and seems to exclude the eastern portions of Washington and Oregon.
For readers looking for alternative explanations of American politics and Cascadian uniqueness, American Nations is definitely worth a read; it’s richly detailed and researched, while remaining surprisingly readable, and offers a fascinating perspective that can vastly expand and enliven some seemingly intractable contemporary debates.
Better Off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession
In this book, which came out in 2009, former Maxim editor Chuck Thompson travels through the American South and observes that it has a vastly different culture than the North – a culture that, he argues, is “” and should therefore be allowed to secede in order to create a “more intelligent, healthy, safe, and financially sound” United States.
Many of Thompson’s observations have been criticized for attacking low-hanging fruit rather than delving deeply into the cultures of the places he visits; The AV Club’s review, for example, accused him of “driving down a gravel road with a blunderbuss in his lap, looking for the smallest barrels with the most fish in them” – an accurate charge, but one that perhaps hides the extent to which those fish in barrels (as Cascadians, we could think of stereotypes of flannel-wearing, coffee-drinking tree-huggers) are a functional shorthand for truly significant differences.
A book that inspired P.J. O’Rourke, the author of A Confederacy of Dunces, to respond by saying, “it’s New York and San Francisco that I think should secede,” and that, in a similar vein, might offer many of us an opening to debates about what the “real America” looks like and how Cascadia fits – or, really, doesn’t fit – into it, Better Off Without ‘Em is, if you can get past the kneejerk “South is stupid” perspective that forms much of the backbone of Thompson’s book, an interesting conversation starter and worth considering.