The Southern Question / The Rural Question and the Polarization of America and Other Historic Nations By City Interests, Rural Interests, and Related Class Interests

The tension between city interests and rural interests is at the heart of much political polarization, and in America it begs “the Southern Question“. Or rather, more specifically, it begs “the Rural Question”.[1][2][3]

What is “the Southern Question?” – From the Perspective of America

The Southern Question is the same for America as was when Antonio Gramsci asked it in the 1920’s regarding the unification of Italy, it can be stated in a few ways such as:

“Can a rural part of a nation, having a different culture and a different set of interests that is generally less modernized than its citied counterpart, really be part of a Union with a citied part?”

“Can the rural citizens, traditionally at the bottom of the class pyramid (except in cases where the untouchable or slave class was lower), what we historically would call “peasants”, with their ‘backward ways’ really be expected to follow their Northern Brethren’s customs? Or, will they forever be trumped underfoot of the industry and finance elite class of the left and right and the related political establishment, which consolidates power away from the rural regions and common man creating political, social, and economic inequality.”

So in America, “Can we have a unified nation where federal and state policy works for the poor rural whites of the mid-west and south, AND the poor non-whites in the cities, AND the middle-class citied or coastal liberal, AND the recent immigrant, AND the factory worker, AND the factory owner, AND the investor class, AND the big city Democrats and Republicans who control both parties, the government, and all major businesses…”

“…Can we have a unified Nation that works for everyone, or will the stronger always oppress and manipulate the weaker, dividing by social issues and oppressing by economic means?”

Those questions might seem harsh (and certainly when Marx asked if the Jewish population could integrate in Germany in his Jewish Question, that was harsh then… but of course, in retrospect, exactly the sort of question we must ask). In other words, so be it if the words are harsh, Civil Wars, World Wars, and Revolutions are much harsher (and they arise in times of inequality when a class or people is blamed for social, political, and economic inequality and when differences cannot be worked out with the spoken word or pen).

City Interests Vs. Rural Interests; They Ain’t the Same Thing Fella

The point is that city interests are different than rural interests, as the needs of a person living in a city are different than a person living in a rural region.

The needs of rural Georgia and Atlanta are different, Savannah and the black belt don’t have the same culture, and neither do eastern and western Washington state. So why try to treat them “exactly the same?” Never-mind the difference between San Fran and Bayou’s of Louisiana or New York and Nome. The idea that citizens of these vastly different regions would have the same tastes is absurd. Forcing the same policies upon them is equally as absurd (hence federalism), yet in some cases, as it is with the Mormons of Utah and Amish of Pennsylvania, despite the differences, two different types of citizens need to follow some of the same customs and laws.

The compilations aren’t just about interests and tastes though. There is more to it than that.

Opportunity isn’t the same, and generally the rural citizen is poorer, thus generally the rural citizen is of a lower social strata.

Likewise, city culture is different than rural culture, as the environment and way of life of a city is different than of a rural region.

Rural regions tend to be “behind” the cities in terms of embracing “progressivism” and “modernization.”

Rural Regions tend to be less integrated, and tend to favor socially conservative politics, wishing to push back against a modernizing world and hoping to conserve back to simpler times more in line with their current way of life.

Add these issues in to the differences between the types of people who have settled in different lands, and there is a range of complications.

Part of the difference is just a matter of population density and thus proximity to different types of people, but part is a class struggle between lowest classes.

In cities wealth and poverty live side-by-side, in rural regions population is sparse and poverty is common, this has complex effects not all of which I can or will note here).

Thus, for these reasons and more, the citied citizen tends to have an edge in education and finance, and that puts them in a higher class (leaving the poor rural class and poor citied class at the bottom of the social class system in any state that has even a shadow of a capitalist economy).

Over time class interest has an effect, and this polarizes the city and rural regions even more (and polarizes the rural and citied poor, each with different wants and needs themselves).

Over time this sets it up for the cities to control the rural areas politically and economically as they increasingly move ahead of their rural counterparts and power gaps and cultural gaps widen.

Then, when federal and state laws are passed, the cities get a better deal (as politics follows money more often than warm bodies). To the extent that politics can’t follow money, and to the extent those warm bodies of the rural voter are needed, we get lots of vote buying, gerrymandering, strict laws, and strategic manipulation (like we see in the Southern strategy and Sixth Party Strategy).

Then, yada yada, there is a populist tyrant who rises up at the whim of the frustrated lowest classes (this according to Plato at least).

TIP: I didn’t say I was offering a Southern Answer, I said I was explaining the Southern Question (better stated as “the Rural Question”). That said, I’ll give an answer before I lose you, the answer is “purple state politics“. We must find common ground between the wants and needs of different interests in a Democracy, no special interest should seek to dominate the others, instead we should be finding common interest in-line with the common good. It is what the founders intended. To do this we must recognize that the Northern Liberal is not the Mid-Western Framer, is not the Deep South urbanite, is not the recent immigrant, etc AND we must at the same time realize that despite all the inherent inequalities, we are all American. For everything else, there is TRUE federalism (not as a code for Confederate States’ Rights position, but in its true Republican purpose).

TIP: There is a reason the Northern Coasts and Cities are in one party and the Rural South and Mid-West are in the other party in any era, with this being true even when the parties switch. This is because the main divide is between the political, economic, and social interests of rural regions and city regions (and between their related and inequalities and cultural differences). This difference is expressed well by the left-right paradigm “Big Government Progressivism” vs. “Small Government Social Conservatism”. Learn more about party switching and what it does and doesn’t mean.

The Civil War as an Emblem of this Tension

Although the Civil War’s causes were complex, a main sentiment that led to the Civil War in America was a struggle between North and South, between the rural “old ways” of slavocracy and citied “new ways” of industrialization.

This wasn’t too different from what happened under Jefferson or Jackson’s watch, but the events from the War of 1812, the industrialization after, and the tension over expansion really magnified the issue.

In the old days the lowest class was the black slave, that meant every poor rural white, was, by his skin color, not at the bottom of the class system.

It went like this: black slave, then black non-slave, then the poor white, then the citied worker (the proletariat), then the country aristocrat, then the citied elite. Here the New York citied elite was always just a snooty nose higher than even the most honorable man of Georgia. No Federalist or Citied Anti-Federalist was going to muddy their boots going to some backwards state like South Carolina if they could help it.

Consider the very socially liberal abolitionist founder trash the pro-slavery south in 1787

IT WAS A NEFARIOUS INSTITUTION-It was the curse of heaven on the States where it prevailed. Compare the free regions of the Middle States, where a rich & noble cultivation marks the prosperity & happiness of the people, with the misery & poverty which overspread the barren wastes of Va. Maryd. & the other States having slaves. Travel thro’ ye whole Continent & you behold the prospect continually varying with the appearance & disappearance of slavery. The moment you leave ye E[astern] Sts. & enter N[ew] York, the effects of the institution become visible; Passing thro’ the Jerseys and entering Pa.-every criterion of superior improvement witnesses the change. Proceed Southw[ar]dly, & every step you take thro’ ye great regions of slaves, presents a desert increasing with ye increasing proportion of these wretched beings. – (1787) Gouverner Morris “The Curse of Slavery”

Never, was the countryman EVER of the same rank as the citied elite. To a social liberal he was less moral, to a more rural founder like Jefferson, he was to be cherished despite his backwards ways. To the business conservatives of both parties, he was at best a way to make profit and at worst a nuance.

That is true in America, that was true in Italy, that wasn’t so different from any past nation. It is hard for an aristocrat or oligarch to see a peasant as their equal, that was true in the old Kingdoms, but that really is no less true in 2017.

And with that noted, in America prior to Lincoln’s victory (his Unification of the rural South and citied North), losing slavery meant that the poor white and poor black would be the peasants of the citied North.

Not only that, but the divide between the fast pace of modernization of cities and the “backwards” way of the rural citizen compounded with the liberal revolutions, industrialization, and modernization to create a divide not only have class and economy, but of politics.

I could go on for days about this, but it is really simple to get. The north has more technology, more education, more opportunity, and different needs. Given that they have more political power and more economic power they typically get their way.

In a capitalist society being “rural” essentially means being somewhere down the food chain.

This naturally creates a citied aristocracy who is far removed from the needs of the city folk.

This creates a problem.

This problem is compounded when at least one faction of city folk, typically the oligarchy, decides to manipulate the opinion of the rural folk (as in a Democracy or winner-take-all system the rural peasants vote is important).

The Oligarchs and Aristocrats from the North Control Everything, Just Like They Always Have

Today in America we get Trump promising coal jobs to the forgotten man, but at best that is an empty promise of scraps of dignity (the kind that wage slavery provides).

I get why the South stopped voting Democrat, there is the race issue granted, but it isn’t just that (or at least not just that). It is that Hillary screams establishment citied liberal from New York…

However, one must remember, Trump is also a citied Liberal from New York.

The south was given an absurd choice, and the only thing more absurd than their choice is their willingness to buy into the modern form of the Southern Strategy and empty promises of “the Forgotten Man” stolen verbatim from FDR (a real friend of the people, a real Democrat, like Jefferson, Jackson, Bryan, and Bernie).

The rural south doesn’t need or want the same assistance programs that the poor city folk do, that has always caused tension, but at least the populist left liberals really do care about both the city worker and the rural worker, about the have-nots of any region.

That is what Gramsci’s Southern Question was all about, it was about,

“By introducing workers’ control over industry, the proletariat will orient industry to the production of agricultural machinery for the peasants, clothing and footwear for the peasants, electrical lighting for the peasants, and will prevent industry and the banks from exploiting the peasants and subjecting them as slaves to the strongrooms. By smashing the factory autocracy, by smashing the oppressive apparatus of the capitalist State and setting up a workers’ State that will subject the capitalists to the law of useful labour, the workers will smash all the chains that bind the peasant to his poverty and desperation. By setting up a workers’ dictatorship and taking over the industries and banks, the proletariat will swing the enormous weight of the State bureaucracy behind the peasants in their struggle against the landowners, against the elements and against poverty. The proletariat will provide the peasants with credit, set up cooperatives, guarantee security of person and property against looters and carry out public works of reclamation and irrigation. It will do all this because an increase in agricultural production is in its interests; because to win and keep the solidarity of the peasants is in its interests; because it is in its interests to orient industrial production to work which will promote peace and brotherhood between town and countryside, between North and South.”

Now yes, Gramsci was a Communist and he was jailed by the Fascists shortly after writing that. But who can say that Mussolini offered the peasants anything more than nationalism and war? At least the left wanted to help the rural south rise up, but of course, it is more complex than left, right, extremes, Communism, or KKK. These are all just reactions to political, social, and economic inequality and we can find insight in all ideologies if we are willing to look, speak honestly, and reserve judgement.

Since 1860 citied liberals from the North have controlled both parties, and the equivalent has always been the case for any nation. This is naturally occurring, it will happen, and one can’t stop it without conscious effort.

The mechanics are simple, ain’t no Goldman Sachs headquarters opening in the middle of rural nowhere with nothing but a bunch of backwards hicks and cows roaming around.

No, Goldman doesn’t go directly, instead a Bourbon straps on a Cowboy hat and goes offering big money (which is small money but looks big to the southern gentleman) for his vote, land, and labor.

With this the Bourbons take the South, and this southern strategy is really no different for a Reconstruction Carpet Bagger as it was for Hoover, Goldwater, or Nixon.

Just poor rural folk getting fooled by big city folk, always walking away back to the farm with at best a modicum of pride and a bad deal.

The Populist Left and Social Liberalism vs. The Populist Right and Social Conservatism

You know, FDR wasn’t perfect, but when FDR offered help to all, he really meant it. When Bernie says he cares about the have-nots, he really does mean it. I don’t think Hillary or Trump have bad intentions, but literally they are big city aristocrats and oligarchs respectively.

One would think that rural politicians would look out for the rural voter, but this is not really correct, they are looking out for rural businesses who benefit from exploiting the south.

Smug liberals say that when a Southerner votes Republican he votes against his interests, but that isn’t fully true, he votes against his economic interests (that is empirically provable since Democratic party policies generally offer assistance to the poor and working poor), but he does not vote against his interest. His interest is in retaining his identity and pride, and although Trumpian policies will not deliver, he votes for the strong male who at least was willing to say the words he wanted to hear and was willing to set foot in his town. That is more than can be said for Hillary, here policy was much better (empirically speaking) for the Southern rural voter, but the 2016 election was not won on policy, it was won on sentiment and rhetoric.

When a person values their pride, and when the class under them is only one handout away from being their equal, and when so many social policies favor northern modernization and culture, it really is no mystery as to why the rural voter picked the northern oligarch from NYC over the northern aristocrat from NYC. The question is, “can we get the Solid South voting Democrat again by running Bernie?”… hmm maybe? But we saw the problem Bryan ran into, and that is social liberalism and classical liberalism don’t always pair well, especially when it is a social liberal doing the pairing.

We have to remember the forgotten worker in rural America, the forgotten ghetto of the city, and the too often forgotten class divide which helps explain everything.

TIP: The above may all sound harsh, and certainly it is meant to be for effect. My actual personal political theory is one of centrism (I err toward the center left, but am not just “left”). See our political science section for a better understanding of everything I am saying; or feel free to ask questions and comment below.

A map showing realigning elections and Presidents who represent major changes in the U.S. parties.

Visual Proof the parties switched and that “Hillary’s America” is a propaganda film.

Visualizing an Idealized Version of the Modern Estates (Social Classes) and the related “Class Struggle” and “Class Mobility” in terms of Left-Right Politics.


  1. Red State, Blue City: How the Urban-Rural Divide Is Splitting America
  2. Rural interests rise with Republicans
  3. The Southern Question

"How the Tension Between City Interests and Rural Interests Affects Politics" is tagged with: Human Rights, Left–right Politics, Money

What do you think?

Ev on

Do you have concrete proof on this: Since 1860 citied liberals from the North have controlled both parties, and the equivalent has always been the case for any nation. This is naturally occurring, it will happen, and one can’t stop it without conscious effort.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

Great question. That I will say was somewhat of a generalized, broad, sweeping statement which I could myself poke holes in. Let me explain what I mean, pomp aside:

“After the Civil War the North won, the citied north had a culture of modernization in terms of tech and finance. In that day it was the Gilded Age factories and railroads and stock exchange and the fat-cat culture of the Barons of the day. That power influenced the Bourbon leadership of the South, certainly the leadership of the north, and the general direction of the country. In general, while rural districts have population… they tend to have less population. Meanwhile, while they have their Barons and Bosses, they don’t have wealth comparable to the cities. This essentially, in any culture or nation, leaves them underpowered politically and economically. They therefore end up playing second fiddle to the citied ruling class.”

This is why our system has, for example, an electoral college (to give extra representation to the rural states).

In other words, the wording was a bit flowery in the essay, but I mean it as “the hub of world finance, the core of our economic power and therefore political power, is in places like D.C. and NYC… not rural Alabama… and that has complex effects.”

As for my comment on “stopping it,” I meant through democratic and republican means, debate, conversation, and system of checks and balances that stops those with the most power from becoming corrupting forces (and likewise stops those with less power from banding together to strip said forces of their liberties and rights).

The point of the page is to get us thinking about the inherent differences between rural regions and city regions in any country, but specifically America. And that part was just pointing out how after the Civil War the modernizing citied north dominated both parties in terms of nearly everything except social policy (which is something they did not by defeating the rural leadership, but by working with them in an economic sense).

Lots of aspects to this conversation, I could go on.

Bottomline: No I don’t have one bit of concrete proof that the citied liberals had a massive influence after the Civi War, but general history and formation of the Gilded Age after Reconstruction is itself essentially proof.

Ev on

Fair enough. I was hoping you had solid proof. I read/watch a lot of alternative media and a theme that comes up is that the Republicans (Rural party) are “Controlled Opposition.” Some reasons I think this is actually true are:

1. Democrats/Corporate Media has not thanked Donald Trump for exposing the Republican party as frauds, who ran on a campaign platform of repeal/replace Obamacare. One would think in 7 years they would have drafted legislation ready to go, hence Trump said he’d sign it day one. If the Republicans were not Controlled Opposition, Democrat politicians should have no issue blasting them on this fact. Tax reform also shows this as there has been no bill for that either. Can you imagine going to a job interview saying you are capable of X,Y,Z and then you can’t do a single thing? You’d be fired, but for some reason these people get reelected. Trump wasn’t expected to win: Republican politicians even admitted they voted Clinton. They just feel like a fake political party to me and exist just to give Democrat voters an enemy to hate. Every issue the scape is either a) The “Moderate” or b) “Republicans”. I know you may reply with big tent, but they have a significant majority.

2. Republican politicians are unable to ever speak the truth on anything. In the English language insurance now means care. How come Republicans don’t say that health insurance is NOT health care? How come they don’t say that Obamacare was meant to be a giveaway to health insurance companies, where the main benefactor is the Blue states? If Republicans weren’t Controlled Opposition, they would actually give out real information instead of just looking like clowns.

3. MSNBC(Dem) and FOX(Rep) are both in NYC HQ. They use the same lines to describe the other party. Literally the exact same lines. Both say the other party is more corrupt, the other party is the rich party, the other party is out of touch, etc etc. They use the same lines. Americans don’t watch both sides of politics so they don’t realize they both give the same propaganda. There is Red Ice Cream and Blue Ice Cream. You are getting Ice Cream either way, just with different food dye.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

I can think on and whip up some solid proof. The key is looking at Civil War to the Gilded age and researching Bourbon liberals and NYC party bosses and how the influenced the Dixie party bosses of the south (and then following the timelines and history form there). I’d have to dig through some books, like VO Key’s Southern Politics, and some general history to offer specifics (I’m just generally relaying a bunch of past research paired with generalizations here).

As to your points. I think they are good ones. But I also think the reality is in some respects both natural (simply a matter of self interest) and complex (having more than one side to consider at once). Let me see if I can offer some insight.

Maybe a better way to say this, with this being true in the 1800s, 1900s, and today, is that the economic elite conservatives and liberals (right-wing and right-wing) really don’t now nor have they ever wanted that Agrarian Jeffersonian style of individual liberty.

Being governmental figures and economic elite, and being that all entities are inclined toward self preservation, they want banks, debt, military, modernization, big companies, moderate protectionism, etc first and foremost and everything else second if at all.

Said simply, the state wants statism and the citied elite want an environment that favors economic growth, so the small government rural groups and the strictly pro-worker (factory or farm) groups are always in a subordinate position despite their larger numbers.

It seems to play out this way time and time again.

For a modern example, like you say, there is a lot of talk of “repeal ObamaCare” or “single payer now”… but you always see the same basic liberal-conservative elite policy in practice on both sides (a mixed market system of tax credits, spending, debt, taxes, private companies, public programs, etc). Really, the only thing the BCRA does that the ACA doesn’t is it favors red states instead of blue ones (like… a different flavor of the same ice-cream). Now, I follow healthcare, and that slight difference is a big one for me. But from a 3,000 ft view we can certainly be critical of how “essentially the same” the two plans are.

Thus, one might see reality as this: it is less about red-team / blue-team, and more about elite left and right vs. populist left and right… which is confused greatly by the general left vs. right, Democrat vs. Republican, battle over social issues (which is the foot forward all politicians always put; as those issues are more emotional and divisive).

If team red wants limited government in message, and team blue wants big socially minded government, but team elite wants it to favor the elite, and team populist wants it to favor the population… the only group who really stands to agree on much is the team elite, agreeing over finance, state power, and military.

So team elite gets their way slowly, while team populist fights over divisive social issues. Then, the rest is explained by “the elite tend to live in and operate out of cities… and cities tend to be more modern and liberal.” Still, if “liberals” do have an upper-hand, we are saying like Hillary and Bush, not Bannon and Bernie (clearly those are populist leaders). Meanwhile we have in-betweeners like Obama and Trump… who, generally win elections. And then the end result is we get in-between policies and agencies and such.

If I had a magic wand and understood everything perfectly, I wonder if I’d really do anything different? Hard to say. I do know that pondering all this is useful though. Helps us better understand both history and modern politics.

Evan Carp on

What occurred in 2016 was a wake up call to me that USA had to be fixed. I’ve done extensive research (your work has been invaluable) because I want to make America perfect so these dark time periods, like the Gilded Age, and new Gilded Age (that we live in right now) do not occur again. My view on the Founding Fathers and the Constitution is that they wanted to make a perfect government. George Washington especially wanted perfection, with no political parties to ruin the new country. I’m aware Jefferson felt parties would naturally occur (2 opposing forces), but I am a person that does not like extremes. North Korea is an extreme and the opposite force is the revolution to counter the dictatorship. It is unnecessary to go through either extreme (dictatorship or revolutionary war). The Great Depression could have led to a Hitler style leader in USA. It is important to safeguard against extremes is my main takeaway because I want a stable country for future generations.

As you pointed out in an article, and I also agree, wealth inequality is necessary, and, extreme inequality leads to war. The trick is distributing wealth, which in my view equals power, properly. In terms of perfection, I believe the numbers the Founders use, such as 2/3 majority have a deep meaning. I’m not sure if you remember, but I posted to you about my views on economics, and there being 6 types of people in this world — Capital/Centrist/Labor Male/Female types. I believe the top 11.1% should have 33.3% of the power needed to pass a law, the next 33.3% should have 33% power, and the bottom 55.5% have 33.3% power. The Founders talk about safeguarding against monarchy and mob rule. I feel forcing the government to abide by these numbers forces a safe stable Republic. I LOVE Teddy Roosevelt. He wanted to protect businesses against corrupt unions and also bust bad trusts. He recognized there is bad capital and bad labor. I feel my model achieves the goal of safeguarding the top 11.1% (the rich) from the bottom 55.5% (the poor). I want the elites and the populous to have proper say in government,

I used my real name on this post because I’m running for Congress in 2018 (you can google my name) with the goal of restoring the Republic back to perfection. Would I appreciate you finding evidence and helping me win? Yes. I want to unite the people that have been divided on social issues so we can have genuine economic reform to restore capitalism (I feel capitalism died a few decades ago). I’m open to everything you have to say about all of this since as I said, your work has been a huge influence on me. If you want to talk privately, we can on my website there is a contact form, or we can talk here. I appreciate all the work you do as it has been invaluable for me and I want America to wake up to the truth.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

Thank you for the kind words. Let me go over this and think on it and I’ll get back to you. Always happy to help out anyone with a positive attitude and the energy to get something done!

Ps. Yes I do remember your idea, it was an interesting one. Will respond to this message in the next few days.