How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America

Heather Cox Richardson. Oxford Univ, $27.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-19-090090-8
In this incisive, politically minded history, Boston College professor Richardson (West from Appomattox) argues that Barry Goldwater’s “movement conservatism”—which she claims has overtaken the Republican Party during the past 50 years—“embrace[s] the same ideas” that undergirded slavery and sparked the Civil War. Tracing the origins of those beliefs to the “great paradox” of America’s founding documents (”the concept that ‘all men are created equal’ depended on the idea that the ringing phrase ‘all men’ did not actually include everyone”), Richardson contends that throughout U.S. history, wealthy white men have enhanced and enshrined their power by stoking the fears of poor and working-class white men that women and minorities are poised to become their equals. She documents how post-Reconstruction settlement shaped the West, building an economy based on resource extraction (just like the antebellum South); tracks the formation of political alliances between Western and Southern conservatives; and concludes that Donald Trump’s cultivation of white supremacist support has “stripped off whatever genteel veneer remained on Republican ideology.” Though Richardson underemphasizes the prevalence of racism, sexism, and inequality in other parts of the country during and following the Civil War, she marshals a wealth of evidence to support the book’s provocative title. Conservatives will cry foul, but liberal readers will be persuaded by this lucid jeremiad. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 01/28/2020
Release date: 04/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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