‘Rednecks’ of the World Unite?
Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became
America's Scapegoats (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997;
paperback ed., 1998).
things first. Jim Goad is not a nice guy, and he’d be the first
to tell you. He’s been in a few scrapes, one of them serious. By
writing this I’m not condoning reprehensible personal conduct but
commenting on what he’s put between the front and back cover of
a book that somehow got by me for five years. The book deserves
more attention than it has received, which aside from the Internet
is probably close to zero. I’ve never seen it in any bookstore (surprise,
said, this book is not for kids! Its anger is matched only by its
lowbrow humor. Goad pulls out all stops, pulls no punches, takes
no prisoners. His language is the language of working class neighborhoods
and bars. There is a lot of profanity enough to make
you want to take a bath, so be warned! The text is liberally sprinkled
with instances of the n-word. No doubt, liberals and their
neocon brethren will close the book when they see just the title
of Chapter One. Too bad. Their loss. They might learn something.
This book is not the product of a backward illiterate but a sharp,
observant mind who happened to be born on "the wrong side of
the tracks." He is obviously well read, with a college degree
(we aren’t told where from or what he studied). The book is well
written, given its in-your-face style. Goad references his main
claims with 13 pages of footnotes and a six-page bibliography. He
is, moreover, aware of recent tendencies such as deconstruction,
to which he refers occasionally. This makes him a very unusual,
if self-described, "redneck." The Redneck Manifesto
is a surprisingly complex read. Not for kids but not
for narrow-minded lefties or neocons, either.
no one who reads this book honestly will think Goad either hates
or is attacking black people (see p. 40). True, he doesn’t think
much of leftist blacks, but this is ideological, not racial.
His use of inflammatory language is carefully scripted n.
here means not black but outsider, anyone cast
out and scapegoated to make the in-group feel superior ("I
was somebody else’s [n.]," "white [n.’s] have feelings,
too" and "even the multiculturalist needs a [n .]").
And calculated: Goad also uses terms like white trash, trailer
trash, hillbilly, hick, etc., serving up a full
litany of derogatory terms routinely used for poor rural and working
class whites. These somehow don’t arouse the ire that n. does;
using one of them won’t get a journalist fired on the spot, for
instance. Goad’s uncomfortable mix of "acceptable" and
"unacceptable" ethnic slurs is not exactly random, then,
and stirs up the obvious question: why are poor whites fair
game in our multiculturalist paradise? Why is "white trash
culture" the butt of jokes without the thought police batting
an eyelash? This is the key to why this book is important. For all
his brusqueness, rascality and verbal near-brutality, Goad’s Angry
White Male routine succeeds brilliantly in displaying the self-deception
and hypocrisy of multiculturalism and Guilty White Male. He demolishes
notions like reparations for slavery by gutting myths about the
supposed privileges enjoyed by white people because they are white.
He would agree, moreover, with paleos such as myself that "respectable"
conservatives are hopeless sellouts with lots of connections (and
money) but no guts or real convictions as bad, in
other words, as Guilty White Male.
central claim is that the major division in American society
and its European antecedents is not race but
class. His rage is directed not at minorities (he doesn’t waste
time on whining feminists) but at the elites of the West
and how they have cynically employed the divide-and-conquer method
against poor whites and poor blacks. Movements like multiculturalism
or identity politics, and policies like affirmative action, are
only the most recent manifestations of this impulse. Ethnic groups
are ready to fly at each others’ throats, a state of affairs benefiting
no one except the elites of whatever group. The most ridiculous
claim of all is that white means privileged.
support this view Goad produces a somewhat different history of
poor whites than we get from the politically correct history books,
in what is probably the book’s best section, beginning with Chapter
Two, "Feudal Existence: The Roots of Eurogarbage." Here
and for the next 60 grueling pages he does the kind of history all
the other ethnic groups are doing. He shows how "rednecks"
and "white trash" can trace their ancestry to British
serfs and peasants whose lives, as Hobbes put it, were "nasty,
brutish and short" even with the so-called social contract
since the latter always protected privilege. The British elites
always scorned the "rabble," and when the time came, they
dumped part of their underclass on the American colonies where poor
whites became "indentured servants." Some were literally
kidnapped off the streets, placed on ships, and taken to a strange
place where they found themselves in servitude.
other words, "they were white and they were slaves." The
idea that all whites came to America voluntarily is untrue; the
idea that blacks have cornered the market on suffering because of
slavery is equally untrue. Owners of black slaves, moreover, knew
they had a long-term investment on their hands, and this mitigated,
at least somewhat, brutal treatment toward them. So-called "indentured
servants" offered only a short-term investment. Hence their
owners worked them for everything they could get out of them. White
slaves worked harder, were brutalized more, and often died (or were
murdered) still in captivity. Far from benefiting from slavery,
poor whites were made worse off by it because the more black slaves
there were, the fewer jobs on plantations, etc., for poor and often
desperate whites who found themselves forced to move westward
the ancestors of today’s "hillbillies." This means
the argument that justice for blacks today requires reparations
from today’s whites making them pay for a state of
affairs they did not create and did not benefit from is
ludicrous. I stress reparations here a bit more than Goad did, because
in the five years since he wrote this book the reparations movement
has grown by leaps and bounds, with elite blacks such as celebrity
attorney Johnnie Cochran and Harvard University’s Charles Ogletree
on board. The damage done to these guys by slavery is written all
over their button-down collars and expensive three-piece suits.
sees himself and the "redneck worldview" as a direct descendent
of this. According to Goad, this worldview isn’t well known because
it has barely been written down the working class
has been too busy trying to survive. He doesn’t think much of the
kind of work that has been foisted on his people, and even less
of the slights routinely dealt those from the "wrong side of
the tracks." And always the question: is it possible that Angry
White Male is angry not at blacks but at bosses, the white elites
of privilege? He calls the American Dream a "kindergarten fairytale"
because of class barriers (p. 102). As for the major media and their
incessant scapegoating of whites: "It didn’t seem to matter
that in my entire life, I hadn’t made a single decision that had
affected anyone else. Not ONE. I had been born into a class where
I was on the RECEIVING end of decisions. I flippin’ had no CONTROL
over anyone else’s life, and mastery of my own was compromised
by the need to work a full-time job. Hell, I couldn’t oppress anyone
even if I WANTED to" (p. 103). Politically correct professors,
are you listening?
point is lost on academics and the large media of
which Goad predictably thinks very little. Goad ponders the future
of working whites, whom he sees has having no one representing their
interests. Back in the 1960s there was a significant movement on
behalf of the poor; it failed (because its leaders placed their
hopes in government a point to which I’ll return below).
During the Reagan years the media harped incessantly on homelessness
(exaggerating its extent). When Clinton was elected in 1992, homelessness
mysteriously disappeared. In the supposedly economically blessed
1990s, the gulf between wealthiest and poorest Americans widened
according to the government’s own statistics. We didn’t hear much
about this then, and we don’t hear much now. Goad: "There’s
no hope anymore. We’re left with a defanged, deballed, demoralized,
degraded, devalued, disillusioned, downsized work force…. An estimated
25 million white Americans currently live beneath the poverty line.
Many of them are working full time. Many of them can’t find full-time
work. Many of them have given up…. How will the country change when
the millions who’ve always teetered just above the poverty line
start free-falling into the pit?… The American working class is
dead. What happens now?" (pp. 12223)
a mixture of valid insight and lack of insight here. It seems true
enough that the government and the media have basically lied about
the health of the U.S. economy of recent years, just like they have
lied about quite a few other things (some I’ve written about at
length). The "boom" was in some respects our "matrix,"
our manufactured reality of Fed-created credit expansion. The numbers
of those who benefited were no doubt exaggerated; those who slipped
backward dropped off the radar screen. NAFTA a program
of global economic micromanagement disguised as a free trade agreement
did send good jobs across our borders. There is little doubt
that there was more unemployment than official labor statistics
indicated because these measure only those who apply for
unemployment benefits and are actively seeking work. Not just cooked
statistics and concealment but open dishonesty became a way of life
in Rome on the Potomac during the 1990s. The most brazenly dishonest
and lawless presidential regime since Lincoln led the way
and it is no credit to the country’s overall moral climate
that this administration survived for eight years without significant
organized opposition despite all the "right wing conspiracy"
blather. Even Nixon had the courtesy to resign the
people then would have insisted on removing him from office. In
the 1990s, the theme was: "hey, the economy’s great, so who
cares about the president’s personal peccadilloes?"
that as it may, Goad’s hammering us about class barriers and about
the hopelessness of the working classes improving themselves begins
to wear thin after a while. Clearly he resents the dickens out of
having had to work at a job he considered beneath his mental abilities.
Well, many of us have had to work at jobs we despised. It happens.
The plain truth is, class barriers haven’t been as rigid as he maintains.
At least some poor whites (and a few blacks and members of other
ethnic groups) have been able to improve themselves significantly
in the American economy, and in ways they have been unable to do
anywhere else in the world or at any previous time in history. They
created the American middle class. For them the American dream wasn’t
a kindergarten fable. How did they do it? The answer is: hard work
in an environment characterized by free markets, which means that
government interference is kept to a minimum. While we have never
had completely free markets in America, it is common knowledge that
the federal government was once much smaller; the tax and regulatory
burdens were much lighter. This is one reason the poverty programs
of 3040 years ago failed. Government can’t solve a problem
when it’s a huge contributing factor to why there is a problem.
At least some of the working poor are hurting from the combined
burden created by taxes, regulations, occupational licensure laws
and other barriers long ago put in place by government and elite
gatekeepers who benefit from government-imposed barriers to entry
into markets. Government was the largest growth industry of the
1990s, and continues to grow during the regime of Bush the Younger.
In today’s security-crazy, post-9/11 society, it is the largest
it has ever been.
also has to be said: many poor whites remain that way because of
their own patterns of behavior. Instead of saving money or investing
it they spend it on beer or liquor, cigarettes and junk food. They
go to poker parlors, buy lottery tickets, place ten dollar bills
in strippers’ garters, or worse. Goad serves up a chapter reveling
in working class entertainment the drinking, fighting,
carousing, drug-abusing and so on. Goad clearly identifies with
a lot of this, but he makes it clear no doubt unintentionally
why many poor whites will remain poor. These people
can’t blame the elites for their predicament. Wealthy whites aren’t
forcing poor whites to blow their whole paychecks in bars.
the liberals who might instigate poverty programs, though, and to
his credit, Goad doesn’t trust the government at all. He has no
use for organized politics. Like myself, he would jettison the categories
of left and right as useless. He gives us an entire
chapter of reasons justifying why militias have formed, why intelligent
citizens are skeptical of "gun control," why we shouldn’t
trust the major media about anything pertaining to race, and why
paranoia about nosy, government intelligence-gathering campaigns
is justified reasons that are all the stronger in
this post-9/11 era of Patriot Acts, etc. Some of what he does present
is topflight for example, he directly quotes the Framers
themselves who saw the Second Amendment as justifying the right
of all adult citizens to own guns as the best means of protecting
themselves from potential tyranny (pp. 18788). Good government,
he tells us, is "when the politicians are scared of the people,
and not vice versa" (p. 201). He’s figured out the truth about
Lincoln’s war and what it did to the South quoting
ol’ Abe himself on the real reasons Rome on the Potomac went to
war (pp. 21719) no, it wasn’t to free
the blacks. On such matters as this, Goad’s research is solid. He
also has the Federal Reserve’s number and its role as "an organization
of private bankers" in the real power structure (p. 192). He
is aware that wars are started by elites and expand the powers of
elites and that an estimated 169 million people have
been killed by governments over the past century, whether through
war or acts of genocide (p. 190). He isn’t that far from having
the whole New World Order scheme to create world government figured
out too bad he apparently never ran across Carroll
keeps missing the one combination, though, that would point the
way out of the nasty spot in which today’s white underclass finds
itself: economic freedom, supplemented by personal responsibility
and constrained by a moral view of the universe. He doesn’t
give us this, and this is the book’s main failing. We are left with
the hopelessness of the post-Marxian class-conscious existentialist
the maverick cultural observer who is smart enough to see
that Marxism was a flop, would hope for class warfare ("white
trash vs. white cash" p. 34) but is certain that would
flop, too. Instead he can only offer the working classes escapes
of various sorts such as the raunchy excursion through
the extremities of working class leisure in "Playin’ Hard"
and rationalizations for its violence.
brings us to the chapter on religion, "Prayin’ Hard."
This is the only chapter that is thoroughly botched. In a word,
Goad thinks Christianity is ridiculous. However good his mastery
of the history of poor whites and however good his insights into
the basic dishonesty of government, he doesn’t seem to have glanced
at the Old or New Testaments. True, organized religion has its faults,
but so far, no one has produced a credible alternative or substitute.
The handful of societies erected on a foundation of explicit atheism
have been dictatorships more brutal than anything we have come up
with and in them Goad would have his tongue yanked
out for writing a book like this. This isn’t proof that God exists
or that Jesus rose from the dead, of course, but the point seems
to be lost on atheists, whether of the intellectual or the village
type. Supposedly Christian societies have been far from perfect,
but atheistic ones have a track record of nothing but bloodshed.
Goad’s dark and very antihumanist view of human nature is more compatible
with the Christian concept of universal sin (Rom. 3:23: "for
all have sinned") than he realizes. "I think that anyone,
given power, acts like an oppressor," he tells us (p. 232).
If sin is real and not a theological fiction, would this not explain
our all-too-human inability to build up a society where someone
doesn’t get shafted? Goad’s screed against religion somehow morphs
into a discourse on Elvis impersonators, the Weekly World News
(admittedly the funniest of grocery store trash-tabloids), snake
handlers, Bigfoot and UFOs. At this point the book seems more autobiography
than "white trash philosophy" many poor
whites are very religious, after all. Just listen to the religious
themes in many country music songs. Goad sees country music as the
music of poor whites—rural or otherwise. I’m surprised he didn’t
pick up on the religiosity of a lot of it. Finally, I hope Goad
isn’t attributing Christianity significant power within elite circles.
Few if any of today’s elites intellectual, cultural,
political are Christians or anything close! While
religion is capable of being an "opium of the masses"
there is no evidence this is the situation today.
begin summing up: the strength of this book is that it provides
a much-needed, well-aimed and squarely delivered kick in the teeth
to multiculturalists, reparations-crazies and Guilty White Males
generally. Anyone reading this book and seeing a call to "white
supremacy" in it has misread it, however. His targets
it is important to be as clear as possible about this
are this society’s elites of privilege, wealthy whites,
and their guilt-derived view that whites (i.e., poor whites) can
be sacrificed because of history. Although I doubt Goad is familiar
with the logical fallacy of illicit conversion, it would be fallacious
to argue from, "All privileged elites are white men" (even
if this were true) to "All white men are privileged elites."
Redneck Manifesto’s weakness is that after clobbering us with
an "It’s class, stupid!" message, it offers no
solutions. In the end, Goad accepts his status and accepts it for
poor whites. We get nothing about the potential of free markets
to elevate a people’s economic status. The nice neighborhoods of
the middle classes he describes very early in the book remain a
mystery, as if wealth drops out of the sky or is delivered to some
and withheld from others by whimsical, supernatural forces. People
have risen from poverty and become doctors, dentists, engineers,
musicians, computer programmers and so on. Admittedly it takes hard
work and, often (though not always) an intergenerational effort,
but it has been done. After all, even those of us born into
the middle class had ancestors who were poor somewhere in our family
tree. The middle class didn’t always exist. Economic freedom created
today the white middle class is shrinking smothering
under a tide of taxes, regulations, licensure laws, affirmative
action programs, unlimited immigration, and a parasite class of
policymakers, lobbyists and academic pseudo-intellectuals with no
grasp of economics. Unfortunately, the latter have the ear of the
elites, who are more impressed by Harvard degrees than real knowledge.
There may be an important insight here into why the elites
whether busy building the New World Order or trying to distract
the rest of us with mindless entertainment despise
capitalism even though it was capitalism that made them rich (think
of George Soros or Ted Turner or any Hollywood leftie you care to
name). Capitalism is the only economic system in history that
has ever improved the economic standing of the masses. It eventually
empowers the masses whenever practiced consistently. Thus it threatens
any elite order based on nothing except privileges of birth. Capitalism,
moreover, is not simply corporations spitting on their employees.
It is people starting their own businesses when they see an unfulfilled
need. It is people voluntarily exchanging goods and services with
other people where both believe they will benefit. It means competition
and freedom of association without privileges for
some at the expense of others. It means no welfare parasites
of either the traditional or the corporate variety. It means
social problems being addressed within families and communities,
with actions tailored to specific situations, not one-size-fits-all
social engineering. It means keeping government as small as possible,
and keeping its grubby paws off a free citizenry’s economic activity.
Only such a system is capable of creating that proverbial "rising
tide that lifts all boats." Doctrines such as individual natural
rights, finally, are the ones that get rid of institutions like
slavery. Chattel slavery does not exist anymore in the West. It
does still exist among peoples who hate the "great Satan."
bad Goad didn’t say all this. There are times when he seems to revel
in the suffering, depravity and hopelessness of the lower classes.
The Redneck Manifesto has a distinct masochistic streak.
But had it not turned into something likely to be pigeonholed as
a class warfare screed I doubt it would have found
a major publisher. Whatever its faults it is an important book,
and one can benefit from a look at it despite the need for a "parental
advisory" due to graphic language and mature content. The thoughts
of a sharp mind writing from a vantage point in this society’s most
put-down, ridiculed and put-upon group might prove handy to have
Yates [send him mail]
is a Margaret "Peg" Rowley Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute,
where he is writing a book entitled The
Paradox of Liberty.
He has a PhD in philosophy, and is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (ICS Press,
1994), and dozens of articles in both academic and nonacademic
periodicals. He has relocated to Auburn, Alabama.
© 2002 LewRockwell.com
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