CHAPTER 28. NON-NOBILITY SOCIETIES

There are five industrialized nations that are related to each other because they all trace their origins to Great Britain. These nations are the United States of America, South Africa, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. All these countries share the fact that they did not begin industrialization with a nobility class backed by the royal institutions and pageantry of European nobility. Therefore, all these former British colonies share a common social trait of less class-consciousness than that of mother Britain. This in turn meant that their modernizations had fewer bitter clashes between the forces of labor and the owners of capitalism.

Robert Alford (1967) compared the four Anglo-American countries of the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and Canada, and found that the level of class voting was the highest in Great Britain, followed in order by Australia, the United States, and Canada. The reasons for the lower class voting in the latter two countries was the relative lack of identification of the political parties with any of the social classes because of the presence of other stratification variables, particularly ethnic and racial divisions, that cut across social classes.

Alford pointed to the importance of racial and ethnic factors in determining the differences among the political systems of the Anglo-American societies. Of these factors the most important one is race. Obviously, the society most affected by race is South Africa. However, the United States has also been deeply affected by racial division, even if to a lesser degree. Unfortunately, for the United States, even American scholars have failed to realize the full significance of the impact of racial division on the United States. This chapter, therefore, is extremely valuable in pointing to this division as an important source of differentiation between the former colonies of Great Britain.

The next society to be most influenced by racial/ethnic divisions is Canada, which has been deeply affected by the existence of the French-speaking province of Quebec. This ethnic division is particularly intractable because the French-speakers are concentrated in one specific geographic area rather than being spread throughout the nation.

The next to the last society most affected by racial/ethnic division is that of Australia. The use of considerable numbers of Chinese workers during that country's gold rushes left a racial scar that has continued to taint the society and its Labor party. The society least affected by racial/ethnic division is that of New Zealand. It is this very lack of social divisions that explains why New Zealand has become one of the countries, like Sweden, that is often seen as an ideal model of a social welfare state.

Besides having the non-nobility background, the five Anglo- American societies also have in common some element of a federalist style of government. A federalist government is one in which the local geographical units have considerable powers in relation to the national government. The degree of federalism in the society depends greatly on the degree of racial/ethnic division. The United States and South Africa retain considerable federalism because of their continuing racial divisions. Canada has less federalism than either of the above two countries, but the continued problem of Quebec forces the retention of some federalism in Canada's government. Because of the existence of fewer racial/ethnic divisions in Australia and New Zealand, both countries have been able to reduce considerably the degree of federalism in their governments. Today the federal governments of these two nations have considerably more power than the local units. Each of the five Anglo-American countries will be discussed in depth to point out in greater detail the similarities and the differences.

The United States of America

There are many reasons why the United States became the nation it is today. Certainly an important factor was the establishment of the nation by very religious groups that were often considered extreme in their countries of origin. Especially influential was the puritanism of New England. Another factor was the near constant influx of immigrants into American society. This created considerable satisfaction amongst older immigrant groups, as the new groups had to start at the bottom of the economic ladder. This pushed the older immigrants up the economic scale making them more content with the political system. Despite these important factors, the most important factor affecting the United States is its racial tripartite system. The middle class (also including the working class) has been so concerned about keeping the blacks in a racial caste system that the nation has never developed the class consciousness necessary to wring concessions from the upper class. Today this division means that among all the industrialized countries the United States has the worst welfare state (next to South Africa). The middle class accepted this situation of inequality partly because immigration maintained the opportunity for upward mobility, but more importantly because they feared the black caste.

When America codified its value system, it did so in religious terms, creating a civil religion based on a modified Puritanism: the racist myth of the equality of opportunity. This value system, in turn, sanctified the racial division in the nation for the middle class used the equality of opportunity to argue that it held the privileged position it had because of its own hard efforts. Concentrating on biological racism, American sociologists have missed this more subtle, and hence more invidious, sociological racism used by the middle class to justify its privileges.

The existence of slavery in the United States created two fundamentally different societies in one nation. The existence of a slave economy in the South meant that that region was fundamentally different in terms of way of life and even values from the capitalist society of the north. Eventually, the founders of American government would have to confront the huge regional differences between North and South, but they put it off for as long as possible.

The system of slavery was so endemic to the South, and that region so crucial to the nation, that the founding fathers built this division into the American government itself, giving the states too much power over the legislative branch. The end result was to saddle the nation with a relatively weak government. In this weak system pressure groups have been given considerable power to block any legislation with which they are unhappy. And the South, in particular (but certainly not exclusively), has used this power to prevent the passage of many liberal reforms. In addition, Thomas Jefferson made the Supreme Court too concerned with property rights to defend the rights of minorities. (Jefferson, perhaps the worst "sociologist" in American history, mistakenly thought that the American middle class would be radical by nature.)

Jefferson's weak government of balances ended with the Jacksonian revolution. Under President Andrew Jackson, the racist white middle class triumphed, and a government committed to their political goals became established. The political spectrum in America varies between conservative and liberal racism. Seen for an international perspective instead of the narrow politics of the United States, the American political system now has a conservative white majority that elects a conservative legislature and a conservative president, all backed up by a conservative Supreme Court.

The intransigence of slavery in the South led to the Civil War, 1861 to 1865. Following the Civil War, the program of Reconstruction failed. It failed simply because it was inevitable that Southern whites would reestablish total control in their states. Unable to prevent this, Republican politicians agreed with Southern Democrats to ignore the race problem. This compromise lasted for some seventy years.

The racial issue only reemerged because the Republicans would not, or could not, effectively handle the Great Depression. This allowed the Democrats to win enough votes outside the traditionally Democratic South to establish a brief Democratic era. This is the one and only time that something even loosely resembling a leftist coalition came to power in the United States. The trend enabled the Democrats to institute some changes that nominally qualify the nation as a welfare state.

The Democrats controlled the presidency long enough for Franklin Delano Roosevelt to appoint a number of liberals to the Supreme Court. However, as the Democratic party started to move towards more racial justice, the South began to desert the Democratic party as its presidential party of choice. This eventually meant a favorable electoral position for the Republicans in presidential elections.

After Roosevelt's death, the Supreme Court handed down a number of pro-civil rights decisions. This, in turn, started the civil rights movement and the destruction of the Southern apartheid system. However, a backlash soon erupted that turned the clock backwards on civil rights. The ultimate expression of this backlash was the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency. Under Reagan the Republicans began slowly to weaken the nation's minimal welfare state.

Following World War II, many blacks moved out of the South to the major cities of the country. The end result is that the United States now truly has the racial pattern that once existed only in the South. Any further civil rights changes will involve not just conquering racist attitudes in the South, but throughout the entire nation.

The weak government of the United States not only delays liberal reforms on racial issues, but on almost every other issue as well. American government was born in racial division and the racial division reinforces this conservative governmental system. The system therefore lurches from one crisis to another, the crises only being handled when the voters elect a strong leader who can mobilize Congress to pass key legislation.

South Africa

Like the United States, it is true that there are more issues in South African politics than race, but race has always been the dominant problem facing the Union of South Africa. In 1652 the Dutchman Van Riebeeck, working for the United East India Company, led the first Dutch settlement to South Africa. Once established, Van Riebeeck sent for slaves from other parts of the Dutch seaborne empire and from other parts of the world. For the next 182 years South Africa was a slave state.

In 1795 the British annexed South Africa, but it was not until 1820 that British families arrived on the desolate shores of Algoa Bay on the Cape Colony's east coast. Over the next thirty-three years, these settlers became involved in four devastating wars with black tribes.

South Africa actually officially abolished slavery before the United States did, 1834 compared to 1863. In both countries an apartheid system replaced the abolished system of slavery.

There were considerable problems between the Afrikaners (the Dutch settlers) and the British settlers. With the discovery of diamonds in South Africa in 1870, followed by the discovery of gold, Britain took as much land as it could from the Boers (another name for the Dutch settlers). And almost overnight industrialism came. This set the stage for the confrontation between the English settlers and the Afrikaners.

Many parallels between South Africa and the United States that can be drawn, especially in the cultural realm. Like the United States the nationalism of the Afrikaners was that of "the sacred nationalism of a chosen people in their promised land, imbued with a sense of divine mission and equipped with a utopian ideology for reordering society that amounted to a civil religion" (Sparks, 1990:31). And like the United States, the moral code was one of conflicting standards. "Piety coexists with cruelty, prayerfulness with an aggressive militarism, a yearning to be understood and to be loved with a national bellicosity and an impulse to tell the rest of the world to go to hell" (Sparks, 1990:35). Also like the United States, the civil religion of South Africa is tinged with racism, puritanism, and violence. There is also in both countries a similar focus on the egalitarianism among the whites themselves. "Since whites owned all the land and blacks did all the manual labor, no white person had to work for another white. All were equal in their racial aristocracy" (Sparks, 1990:107).

Between the years 1899 and 1902 the Boer War raged. There are amazing similarities between the American Civil War and the Boer War. The war began in October and the British thought it would be over by Christmas. But it took two years, 22,000 lives, and half a billion dollars. The war actually strengthened the Afrikaners in that, like the American southerners, the Afrikaners felt a deep national pride in the knowledge they had fought against overwhelming odds and yielded only to irresistible force.

There are also strong parallels between the American reconstruction period and the period in South Africa after the Boer War. After the war the Boers dominated the white electorate. Therefore, the policies of the Boer republics soon extended to all of South Africa and the brief hope of an integrationist future disappeared. Like the American South, although the Boers lost the war, they won the peace.

Like the United States, sociological racism exists today in South Africa. "The conviction exists in white South African minds today that blacks are inefficient farmers, primitive, improvident, and lazy, working just enough to provide for their barest needs and then idling away the rest of their time" (Sparks, 1990:140).

South Africa today is slowly moving away from apartheid, but this will doubtlessly take a long time. And one would expect, as in the United States, an official apartheid system would be replaced by unofficial policies and discrimination that would maintain segregation and inequality between the races.

Americans are very proud that their nation has never seriously associated itself with such radical ideas as socialism and communism, and have unhesitatingly given a litany of reasons for this: a non-nobility culture; middle class society; the frontier; the Puritan heritage; and ethnic diversity. However, all these features were also characteristic of Canada, even if to a lesser degree. While the United States embraced these factors, Canada consciously rejected them.

Early Canada was very different from America in its economic- political system, and this prevented it from identifying with the Thirteen Colonies during the American Revolution. The French tradition in Canada insured that Quebec would want nothing to do with its aggressive southern neighbor. Moreover, the pattern of land ownership in Quebec was different from that in the Thirteen Colonies. (The northern country had been the property of a joint-stock company, the Hundred Associates. Wanting to encourage settlement, the company established a system of seigneuries or lordships which had manorial privileges. They copied this feudalistic system from the feudal regime in France. The system even survived the English conquest of Quebec.)

In its desire to stay politically and socially separate from the United States, Canada fiercely emulated British ways, including those pertaining to status and hierarchy. This emulation can be seen in Canada's more elitist educational approach. Proportionally speaking, until recently only half as many Canadians compared to Americans went on to a college and/or university education.

The contrast between America and Canada illustrates the relatively weak government in the United States. Canada did not form its government until 1867 and this gave the Fathers of the Confederation the chance to watch American government and society in action. What they saw disturbed them. The United States had just lost over half a million men in a war between the states. The Canadians were not anxious to follow the example. Indeed, Canadians vowed to purge their country of those "centrifugal weaknesses" inherent in the American system. They would not permit the provinces to be copies of the powerful states and vowed to make the provinces subordinate to the federal government. Canadians thought the American constitutional idea that all powers not specifically granted to the federal government be reserved to the states and the people as not only mistaken, but absolutely dangerous. Instead, they turned to Great Britain for their model of government.

Of course, given the existence of French Quebec, Canada had to have a federal type of government. But, to avoid extreme regionalism, the Fathers of Confederation constructed a government directly elected through a machinery separate from the provinces. The central government even appointed the Senate. Instead of establishing a government with few powers, the Canadians made all important matters subject to federal and not local government.

Compared to the Americans, the Canadians developed a more non-religious culture. Canada specifically avoided taking its southern neighbor as its cultural model. The American Revolution further discredited Puritanism as a possible source. Canadians saw the religion as typically American. As Confederation neared, a group of merchants and officials, allied with the Anglican clique, came to dominate English Canada (Upper Canada, now Ontario) and this helped the Church of England remain in favor.

Being so economically overshadowed by the United States, Canadians have often defined themselves in terms of how they differ from Americans. They are more likely to use the phrase "we are not as . . ." and then add an adverb such as puritanical, judgmental, paranoid, conservative, or a myriad of other descriptive terms.

Unlike the Americans, Canadians do not force public displays of support for their national way of life. For example, in Canada 1988 (Thompson 1988:7) the author notes that Canadian patriotism is much lower-key. Former New York Times bureau chief in Toronto, Andrew H. Malcolm, reported a situation at a stock car race in Calgary where the announcer started to play the national anthem, but after a few seconds of "O Canada" had begun to play, he stopped the music suddenly with "You all know the rest." This type of act in the United States would make the front page news and people would be demanding an apology from the announcer.

Australia

Australia is a relatively conservative country, to some degree influenced by racism. This is reflected in their relatively conservative approach to their politics. (Of course, the nation is not as conservative as either the United States or South Africa.)

In 1779 the future patron of British plant hunters, Joseph Banks (who himself had collected plants in Australia), suggested that Britain settle its prisoners at Botany Bay in Australia. In 1788 the first English settlement of Australia began. The leader of the expedition, Arthur Phillip, sailed to what became Port Jackson in order to land a group of settlers. He named the cove after Lord Sydney (Sydney Harbor). The date the settlers landed, January 26 is now celebrated as Australia Day.

The majority of the new settlers came from the jails of Great Britain. And for a long time Australia was basically one giant jail. According to Turnbull (19 :40), before the arrival of the twentieth century, there were still to be found in Australia taverns in which the customary greeting to a newcomer was, 'What was you lagged for, mate?' Australia could not wait to get rid of its memories of convictism. Nevertheless, the convict past has left a legacy which is one of the constituents of the Australian attitude to life: a distrust of authority and of the judicial system. There is also a great deal of distrust of politicians and a refusal to concede them additional powers. Turnbull says that some of this is due to the influence of Georgian England, which also had a great deal of rebelliousness. Undoubtedly, it was also reinforced by racism.

Like the United States, Australia has a "wild west" heritage. There is even a cult of the bushranger, which is somewhat similar to the idea of the American cowboy. But few of the bushrangers committed brutal crimes and, in general, tried to avoid unnecessary violence. Although there are considerable similarities between the cultures of the United States and Australia, there are also differences. For instance, Australians share the British attitude towards Americans as barbarians or rude social climbers.

The year 1829 marks the turning point between old and new Australia. In that year the whole territory, now known as the Commonwealth of Australia, became a dependency of the United Kingdom.

The discovery of gold in 1851 is one of the three crucial events in the history of Australia, the others being the First and Second World Wars. The Australian gold rush duplicated that of the California forty-niners. Within ten years, the population of Australia tripled (from half a million to one and a half million). During this time racism reared its ugly head. By 1857 there were estimated to be as many as twenty-five thousand Chinese in the goldfields of the state of Victoria. The Chinese brought no womenfolk and in time the majority went back to China. However, white Australian animosity crystallized in the form of immigration restriction acts and in the "White Australia" thinking of the Australian Labor Party of the last century. This racism was not serious enough, however, for the working class to vote substantially for conservative parties. In Australia the Labor party has been the favored party even though the party can hardly be called "socialist."

In 1901 under an Act of the British Parliament the Commonwealth of Australia came into being. The framers of Constitution modeled it largely upon that of the United States. However, the British system of a cabinet responsible to parliament was retained as against the American presidential system.

Like the United States, the early federal government of Australia was not much more than an administrative device. The states controlled such important matters as the police, education, health, roads and railways, and the administration of justice (Turnbull, 115).

It was not the great depression of the 1930s that changed the government of Australia. Rather, it was the process of gearing the country to a total effort in World War I that inevitably resulted in the concentration of power in the hands of the federal government. The federal government forced the states out of the field of income tax by levying so high a tax that it was impracticable to compete with it. (The states received allotments based on their previous tax revenues.)

Politically, Australia stands somewhat to the right of both Britain and New Zealand, but to the left of the United States. Australians have always accepted the nationalization of some public utilities and socialist enterprises, although most Australians do not favor nationalization.

New Zealand

New Zealand is located some 1,200 miles southeast of Australia, and consists primarily of the two islands referred to as North and South islands. It was not until 1840 that the first organized settlement began in New Zealand.

Important historically, New Zealand was one of the first federalist nations to do away with federalism. In 1856 an arrangement had been made with the central government whereby the provinces took over the sale of public lands. Leaders of the provinces in the General Assembly soon showed they cared nothing about land conservation. Instead, they sold the land for the sake of immediate returns to their provincial treasuries. Often the land passed into the hands of speculators who resold it at higher prices. Moreover, some of the provincial politicians profited from these transactions. The provinces also borrowed heavily to encourage development. Not only did this increase the general debt of the people of New Zealand, but the competition for loans forced up interest rates. Unemployment increased and revenues fell.

As time went on, it became clear that the provinces had abused their privileges. So the New Zealand federal government took more of the power for itself. The provinces became financially dependent on the revenues that were gathered by the central government. Indeed, the government passed an act abolishing the Provincial Councils.

The Liberal-Labor Party, which governed New Zealand from 1891 to 1912, carried out a program of legislation that attracted world-wide attention to the nation as a center of social experimentation. In 1898 New Zealand became one of the first countries in the world to introduce old-age pensions. Since then, New Zealand has been an outstanding example of a welfare state. It has led the world in providing free services to its citizens. For instance, medical services are free. The New Zealand government owns many types of businesses, including most insurance companies. It also owns all railways, public utilities, and the two major airlines. There is probably no other democratic country, except Sweden, in which the government takes such a big part in industry, commerce, and social welfare.

 

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