Interview: Colin Woodard on the possible futures of our union

Try these United States
By JEFF INGLIS  |  October 13, 2011

Colin Woodard's book American Nations delineates the 11 separate nations within the political state of the United States, explains their origins and interactions with the others, and uses the historical record to better understand how the country's social tensions develop, ebb, flow, and either mesh or conflict with each other. Ranging from the earliest European settlements in the New World through the present day, Woodard's approach melds primary research (including detailed election analysis) with historiography and broader social-science assessments to draw a clear picture of these United States.

>> READExcerpt: American Nations by Colin Woodard <<

The Portland Phoenix caught up with him to talk about how this approach might be useful to understanding (and even solving) our many national problems.

IN THE EPILOGUE THERE'S A REALLY BLEAK PICTURE OF THE FUTURE OF THE UNION OF THE UNITED STATES. YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HOW THEY MIGHT BE RESOLVED, BUT OBSERVE THESE KINDS OF CONFLICTS HAVEN'T BEEN RESOLVED VERY WELL IN THE PAST. My real goal in writing the book was to understand where we've come to in the present and to look back in the past and be able to actually identify the big problems that lead to the divisions and political stalemate that we're in now. I wanted to show that those divisions have existed over a long period of time, and in the process give a new framework for better understanding American history and identity and how certain events from the American Revolution, through the Constitutional conventions, and the American Civil War, really came together — and how regionalism was so important. However, everyone always asks about the future. It was not my goal, so I can't claim that I spent years thinking about exactly what would happen. It's fair to say that nobody knows where we will be in the year 2100 but the essential fractured or balkanized nature of North America on regional grounds does give one cause to pause and reflect on whether or not by the end of this century the nation will be intact — and the likelihood that some dramatic change that could involve fracturing the country on these lines is entirely possible.

Canada has a history of being on the verge of their federation falling apart, mostly because of Quebecois separatism. That can't be discounted. As recent as 1995 there was a referendum that was defeated by the slightest sliver in Quebec that would have potentially led to the collapse of Canada. And still at the time, people of French and Quebecois extraction voted for it; they were just outvoted by the people of what I call First Nation up in Northern Quebec and English speakers and immigrants pretty much outweighed there. Both of our other federations are not necessarily stable. I think Canada is probably the most stable of the three because Canada has come to recognize the fractured and poly-cultural characteristics of their nation, and has accommodated them accordingly. So I think Canada actually stands in pretty good shape. So that brings us to the US and we can see in our current state of affairs where the country is deadlocked and deadlocked in a political conversation that largely falls on regional lines.

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