A bit of change (but not much) for our usual fare of modern American politics. I am writing today a trifle report on a manuscript by former Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb —also a former senator and a presidential candidate in 2006. Webb’s book (one of them) is titled Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish shaped America. It is a book worthy of your time if (a) your Scots-Irish, (b) being an American still thrills you, and/or (c) enjoy reading good history.
Essentially, somewhere around 30 million modern-day Americans can trace their lineage to the Scots. This is somewhat amazing, considering that the number of people living in Scotland today only numbers around five-million. Scottish culture has been formed by centuries of continuous warfare, beginning with their migration from the Emerald Isle into the land of the Picts, whose own quite sophisticated society, we are told, the Scots eventually replaced. I’m no anthropologist, but I believe the Picts are still with us today, only we know them as “Scottish Highlanders.”
Chronologically, we obtain the word Scot from the Roman Latin word Scotii; it is simply what the Romans called the Gaelic speaking people living north of present-day Hadrian’s Wall. The sobriquet remains, and today it includes those who migrated to present-day Scotland from Ireland around 400 A.D.
Someone with more wit than I once observed that the number one export from Ireland and Scotland were the Scots-Irish people. What pushed them out of their homes and on to America’s doorstep? Somewhere between 250,000 and 400,000 Scots-Irish immigrants found their way to America in the 17th and 18th centuries. They mostly traveled in family groups; they brought with them their cultural view of the world around them, and they brought their skills as warriors and rebels. If we examine them closely, we’ll find strong individualism, an innate distrust of aristocracy, a military tradition, and a strong sense of duty.
America was not the only place these people went, but inside the United States there were two major waves of immigrants. The first group were mostly protestants; they were welcomed by the English and celebrated for their contributions to the settlements. A second group in the mid-1800s were not quite as welcomed; it had to do with their religious beliefs and the time-period of their arrival in the Americas. Within the first wave, we find men and women whose attitudes and values were predominantly working-class/populist. In the second group came the founders of America’s labor movement; men and women who rejected capitalism in favor of socialist ideology.
Webb’s book, Born Fighting, seeks to chronicle the shaping of the United States. It is a well-written narrative history that brings understanding to many of our perplexing issues of the day. The story begins nearly two-thousand years ago north of Hadrian’s wall; the tale continues with an account of Scotland’s struggle with England … altogether showing how Scotland was formed from conflict, while England’s history was formed around commerce and trade. The Scots and English fought over several hundred years—conflicts which even extended into Northern Ireland. One of the major push factors from both Scotland and Ireland was starvation —people left in droves.
We must acknowledge that the Scots are a people who not only fought for England through two world wars, and numerous other engagements, but they also fought in the American Revolution. They wore both red coats and blue coats … some wore clothing made of buckskin. Easily forty percent of America’s Continental Army were composed of Scots; they included such persons as Daniel Book, George and William Rogers Clark, Meriwether Lewis, David Crockett, and Andrew Jackson.
The Scots helped to settle America’s frontier; they helped to define American culture. One only has to listen carefully to American country music to discern the influence of Scotland. In literature, the Scots gave us Edgar Allen Poe, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), and in political and military leadership they gave us Stonewall Jackson1, Ulysses S. Grant, Lewis B. Puller, George S. Patton, and Ronald Reagan.
Throughout America’s formative years, the Scots living in America experienced cultural isolation and hard times, but they were stubborn and refused to give in to either an over-bearing government, or the equally over-bearing industrialists. Today, the continue to dominate the blue-collar work force. They remain a primary enlistment pool for America’s armed forces. They form the so-called Bible Belt; they continue to dominate country music.
Mistrust of the political elite continues even today, but on the downside, it is apparent that many of the Scots-Irish are easily misled by the same people whom they profess to distrust: politicians. Today, they tend to vote Democrat for no other reason than because their ancestors did2. They are convenient targets of political rhetoric and the divide and conquer of class warfare. After decades of being told by politicians that “the rich” are their enemy, the modern Scot envisions anyone more well-off than they are, were somehow born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Born Fighting is a good read, because it causes inward reflection.
The Scots arrived in America believing in liberty, property, equality, and limited government. We must then wonder, how did such a stubborn, prideful people become duped into neo-liberalism? How did such a powerful, patriotic, and individualistic cultural group ever get to the point of embracing socialism?
The answer to the foregoing is that it is part of a global trend. I’ve recently had the privilege of spending several months in the United Kingdom, including England, Wales, and Scotland. Yes, there are “conservative” elements within these societies, but among the Scots I found a very large number of people who think that since government has for decades taxed them into oblivion, and as government have promised them something for nothing, they are entitled to “something” at “someone else’s expense.” There is a belief here that they are entitled to a share of Britain’s national treasury.
Concluding now, I’ve found what seems to go hand in hand with British liberalism is a very large number of homeless people, thieves, pickpockets, and druggies. No matter how many times these people go to jail for breaking the law, they go back on the street as soon as they are released. The once proud Scot has been beaten into submission by all the factors of politics that we despise. Their educational system is an abject failure, and if the government wants to silence voices of discontent, they stick a cookie in their mouths. What is actually happening is that over the years, a once-proud and fiercely independent people are being beaten into submission.
I believe that what I am seeing here in the UK is the future of America. Are we smart enough to turn this trend around before it’s too late?