Jim Goad, The Redneck Manifesto: How Hillbillies, Hicks, and White Trash Became America’s Scapegoats (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997; paperback ed., 1998).
First 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, surprise).
That 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.
For 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.
Goad's 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.
To 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.
In 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.
Goad 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?
This 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)
There's 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?"
Be 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.
It 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.
Unlike 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 Quigley's Tragedy and Hope.
He 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.
That 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 whitesu2014rural 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.
To 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."
The 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 it.
But 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."
Too 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 around.
May 18, 2002