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AMERICAN ETHNOREGIONS: A BRIEFING

130413

AMERICAN  ETHNOREGIONS: A BRIEFING

Histories of Futures

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DIMENSIONS OF POLITICS                                       DIMENSIONS OF POSTS

Sectors: All                                                               Importance: *****

Level: Subnational                                                    Scope: USA only

Period: Long run                                                      Process: Power politics

MAIN TOPIC:  SUBNATIONAL  REGIONS                   Treatment: Background.

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OVERVIEW   

Historical political culture: Moralism, individualism, traditionalism  

Early waves of British settlers: Puritans, Royalists, Quakers, Borderlanders  

Cumulative ethnoregions: A dozen North American “nations” 

ETHNOREGIONS:  GENERAL  LESSONS  1

Advantages  1.1

Processes  1.2

ETHNOREGIONS:  THE ORIGINAL POLARITY   2

North  2.1

South  2.2

ETHNOREGIONS:  LATER COMPLICATIONS   3

West  3.1

Other  3.2

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SERIES

This is one in a series of Posts sketching HISTORIES OF  FUTURES of American politics. The  series tries to identify processes that have run through most of American political history, continue today, and may well continue into the future.

This Post is the first of two on subnational spatial formations that shape American politics. This Post treats ETHNOREGIONS resulting from past immigration and settlement. The second Post will treat America’s current patchwork of diverse types of  LOCALITIES (130420).

Earlier Posts outlined the succession of GENERATIONS (030316 and 100323) and historical tensions within American political IDEOLOGY (130330 and 130406).  Later posts will sketch the succession of REGIMES in American political history (130427 and 130504).

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SOURCES

This BRIEFING largely follows Colin Woodard 2010 American nations: A history of the eleven rival regional cultures of North America. New York NY: Gotham Books, 371 pages (paperback edition in 2011 from Penguin). We emphasizes nine American ethnoregions. Woodard actually distinguishes eleven. However, two of them – French and Native American – are largely in Canada. At the end we briefly note those two, along with African-Americans, who are important even though they do not dominate a region.

The classic exposition of four of these regional cultures is David Hackett Fischer 1989Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways  New York NY: Oxford University Press, 972 pages.

A still earlier treatment, with which we begin was Daniel J. Elazar 1966/1972/1984  American federalism: A view from the states. (1984 third edition) New York: Harper and Row, 288 pages. Also Daniel J. Elazar 1994The American mosaic : the impact of space, time, and culture on American politics. Boulder CO: Westview Press, 330 pages.)

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from Colin Woodard's blog

AMERICAN  ETHNOREGIONS

OVERVIEW

Discussion of the historical geography of American political culture has evolved from identifying three east-west bands to tracing four early streams to delineating eleven major “nations.”

Historical political culture:  Moralism, individualism, traditionalism

A classic formulation in post-WWII studies of American state politics identified three contrasting political cultures (Elazar 1966/1972/1984). Historically, these originated among the original settlers of the coastal colonies, whose descendants carried them westward, producing three east-west bands across the northern, central, and southern thirds of the country. All of the schemes we report in this briefing contain that east-west banding.

First, the religiosity and localism of the earliest New England settlers produced a moralist political culture that emphasized government’s role in promoting the public good within a commonwealth. Eventually that political culture migrated across the upper Mid-West (reinforced there by later immigrants from Scandinavia) as far as the West Coast (including California).

Second, the commercialism of early English and German settlers, particularly in the Middle Atlantic colonies, produced an individualist political culture that celebrated lively markets and limited government. Eventually that political culture came to dominate Massachusetts, and stretched from New York and Pennsylvania through Ohio-Indiana-Illinois and beyond as far as Nevada.

Third, the plantation agriculture of the original Southern colonies produced a traditionalist culture that distrusted both commonwealths and markets. White slave-holding elites expected extreme deference from most whites and all blacks. This band eventually included all of the border states and southern third of the country (including Texas) as far as Arizona.

Early waves of British settlers: Puritans, Royalists, Quakers, Borderlanders

Obviously such broad historical influences would tend to diminish and mix over time and to be gradually superceded by later developments (such as the postwar industrialization of the South). That makes it increasingly difficult to use these broad types of historical political culture to interpret current politics in the 21st century. A more specific version of such an approach suffers the same problems, but remains suggestive. This approach distinguishes four different waves of migrants leaving four different regions within Britain at four different periods during the 1600s and 1700s (Fischer 1989).

The earliest wave (1630s) were the middle-class religious dissenters from eastern England (the Puritans). They settled America’s northeastern state of Massachusetts and account for Elazar’s moralist political culture. The second wave (1640s) were elite Anglican royalists (and their indentured servants) from southern England. They settled America’s southern state of Virginia and help inaugurate Elazar’s traditionalist political culture.

The third wave (1675-1715) were middle class Quakers from northern England who settled in America’s mid-Atlantic Delaware valley. Bringing a strong Protestant ethic of equality and hard work, they presumably contributed to Elazar’s individualist political culture.

The fourth wave (1717-1775) came from the unruly borderlands of northern Britain and settled in the mountainous back country of the American colonies (Appalachia, also parts of northern New England). Resistant to government authority, these backcountry rebels probably also contributed to Elazar’s individualist political culture.

Cumulative ethnoregions: North American  “nations”

Recently Fischer’s approach has been elaborated by Colin Woodard (2010), who identifies eleven “nations” in North America. The summaries in this Briefing schematize nine of them under the rubrics of North, South, and West, and note three others under the rubric of Other. As everyone knows, the earliest and most persistent polarity in American politics has been between North and South. These two broad categories are certainly meaningful, but each contains several ethnoregions.

Currently the NORTH includes the North-Central Atlantic (around New York), the Greater Northeast (stretching west from Massachusetts to Wisconsin), and Center North (stretching west from Pennsylvania to Iowa). Politically but not geographically, the North coalition also includes the left-leaning Coastal Northwest (from central California north). The SOUTH coalition now includes the South-Central Atlantic (around Washington), the Deep South (from South Carolina to east Texas), and the Center South (spreading west and south from the Appalachian mountains to north Texas). Politically but not geographically, the South coalition now includes the High West (the high plains, high mountains, and high deserts between the “Midwest” plains and the Pacific coast).

The WEST centers on the Southwest (the territory conquered from Mexico and increasingly populated by immigrants from Mexico). Geographically but not politically, the West also includes the Coastal Northwest and High West. Finally, in what we will call OTHER, Woodard includes New France (Quebec and southern Louisiana) and First Nation (Native Americans in northern Canada). Woodward does not mention African-Americans, because they do not dominate a contiguous territory, but they deserve note. Asian-Americans too are dispersed.

ETHNOREGIONS:  GENERAL  LESSONS   1

The rest of this BRIEFING summarizes – and further schematizes – Woodard’s scheme for distinguishing nine different regional political cultures within the United States.

Advantages  1.1

Thinking about American politics in terms of ethnoregions has many benefits. Doing so forces one to recognize that Americans are diverse. The scheme summarizes much of American history. It illuminates current American politics: These ethnoregions still underlie the rival Democratic and Republican coalitions that have fought recent presidential and other elections. Moreover, the scheme forces one to go beyond relying on the USA’s fifty states as units for political analysis. Of course, not everyone who lives in one of these regions shares the same political culture. Instead, the point is that each political culture is dominant within its region, and most people who live there  adapt to it, regardless of where they themselves came from. Conversely, there are individual representatives of each of the political cultures in all of the other regions.

Historically these regions have been fierce rivals: for example, Woodard argues that each fought its own version of the 1770s American Revolution, as much against each other as against the British. Later, during particular periods over particular issues, the regions formed various rival coalitions. The most important and enduring polarity has been between NORTH and SOUTH, the coalitions that fought the American Civil War (1861-1865). That polarity persists into the early 21st century: The North remains relatively multicultural and progressive, the South relatively monocultural and conservative. However, by now the political party that represents the progressive North has flipped from Republicans to Democrats, while the political party that represents the cnservative South has flipped from Democrats to Republicans. Meanwhile, the West contains some ethnoregions that are becoming increasingly important (introduced below).

Another important benefit of thinking in terms of ethnoregions is that it encourages one to not rely on states as units of analysis. On the one hand, it is easier and more informative to remember nine ethnoregions than to remember fifty states. In some places, some of the ethnoregions embrace many states, inclining all of them to vote for the same party. On the other hand, in many places, the ethnoregions cut across states, turning elections in those states into contests between the intrastate segments of the larger regions. Beneath the state level, the politically most informative units are the 435 districts that elect the 435 members of the national House of Representatives. Those districts reflect particular political cultures more strongly than states as wholes. Whenever possible, one should use maps that show data broken down by all 3000-odd American counties. Those small units reveal the larger patterns that interest most observers. Political strategists plan and fight even national political campaigns district-by-district and county-by-county.

For understanding American politics, these ethnoregions are one good place to start. However, they do not explain everything. Regardless of cultural region, urban areas have always been more multicultural, progressive, and Democratic, while rural areas are usually more monocultural, conservative, and (now) Republican. Also, in particular times at particular places, other political considerations may prevail. Sometimes voters seem to want to divide control of different branches of government between different parties. Conversely, national waves in favor of one party or the other may temporarily cause states to vote against their basic proclivities. Nevertheless, subsequent elections often bring states back toward their norm.

Processes   1.2

Woodard’s scheme illuminates several dimensions of American politics: ideology, geography, and coalitions.

Ideology.Sometimes one might regard American political culture as just “one thing,” for example in order to contrast it with Chinese political culture. Sometimes it is convenient to speak of liberals versus conservatives, since that is what most American politicians do themselves. This scheme distinguishes nine different political cultures within America, which go beyond, and modify, binary ideological labels. When voters in different of these regions vote Democratic or Republican, they MAY be thinking in terms of liberal versus conservative, but those ideological labels can mean something significantly different in the different regions. The differences between the basically liberal ethnoregions concern mostly the enthusiasm for liberalism, in the American sense of using government to improve society. The differences between the basically conservative ethnoregions involve differences between economic conservatives and cultural conservatives (government should NOT intervene in the economy but SHOULD intervene on some moral issues) and libertarianism (the government should NOT intervene on either economic or sociocultural issues).    

Geography.The ethnoregions scheme tells you where these different political cultures came from, how they got to America, and in what geographic regions of America they ended up. Most of the earliest main streams started in different parts of Britain, came to different parts of the Atlantic Coast of North America, and spread inland from there. Most of the process was historical accident, but it did have SOMETHING to do with physical geography. For example, the warmer South was originally more attractive than the colder North to English entrepreneurs hoping to become wealthy through plantation agriculture, therefore originally attracting more population. The North had easier access to the interior and therefore spread inland more widely. All the different models for agriculture that settlers brought with them from Europe worked fairly well in the part of the eastern half of the continent to which they were originally brought, but none of those models worked at all in most of the western half of the continent.

Coalitions.In the course of American political history, these nine ethnoregions have been fierce political rivals. However, over time, some have formed coalitions with others – different coalitions during different periods. In the early 21st century the upshot is two main coalitions, mainly based on what we are calling NORTH and SOUTH. What is most important for current American politics is that, overall, the North coalition believes in using government to improve economy and society, while the South coalition wants government to intervene in economy and society as little as possible. That was the main issue in the 2012 presidential election, and the North coalition supported Obama while the South coalition supported Romney.

Nevertheless, within each coalition, different ethnoregions actually have somewhat different attitudes toward government, creating tension and instability within each coalition. Accordingly, to go further, we must introduce the ethnoregional members of the two main coalitions. As an aid to remembering, I will treat NORTH and SOUTH as each containing three ethnoregions. A third grouping, WEST, also contains three ethnoregions: one belongs to North, one belongs to South, and one may be moving from South toward North. In what follows, I provide several alternative ways of referring to each ethnoregional coalition. The names that Woodward 2010 uses convey some of the history of each ethnoregion. For those who do not know that history, I provide simple names similar to those used for Chinese regions (e.g., Northeast, Central South). Within each coalition, I introduce the ethnoregions in the order in which, historically, they arrived in North America.

ETHNOREGIONS:  THE  ORIGINAL  POLARITY  2

As we have continually noted, the main regional polarity in American politics has always been between NORTH and SOUTH.

North  2.1

The North coalition currently contains three contiguous ethnoregions in the Greater Northeast and one outlier, the Coastal Northwest (treated below under WEST).

North-Central Atlantic (New Netherland). In the early 1600s, as the center of an early global empire, the Dutch in the Netherlands were uniquely prosperous and pluralistic, enlightened and tolerant (at least toward each other). This highly commercial Dutch culture landed around Greater New York (1624-1664) but did NOT spread inland because blocked by other ethnoregions. Woodard regards New Netherlands as a “multiethnic, mutlireligious, speculative-materialist, not entirely democratic city-state” with a “profound tolerance of diversity and unflinching commitment to freedom of inquiry.” New Netherlands contributed those traits to American political culture (the Bill of Rights). Even in the 21st century, New York remains the commercial capital of the USA and its main haven for non-traditional behavior (now with a branch on the Left Coast). New Netherland usually votes overwhelmingly Democratic, and its huge population is enough to carry New York state, even though upstate is predominantly Republican. (Fischer 1989 does not treat this ethnoregion. For a readable account, see Russell Shorto 2004 The island at the center of the world . New York NY: Doubleday, 384 pages.)

Northeast (Yankeedom).This highly religious and commercial culture from eastern England landed around Boston in New England and later spread across the Greater Northeast quadrant of the United States. Its founding Puritans believed that God had already decided the fate of individuals after death. Nevertheless, God expected people to improve both themselves and their communities while still alive on earth. So Yankees are both quite individualistic and quite public-spirited: using education and entrepreneurship to improve themselves and using government to improve economy and society. Historically, Yankees have emphasized universal public education and broad participation in local self-government. They displayed a missionary zeal to assimilate and improve other people and an entrepreneurial zeal to pursue their own economic betterment: agricultural settlement all the way to the center of the continent and maritime commerce all the way to China. The Greater Northeast won the Civil War, making its political culture and account of American history the dominant one in America (except in the South!). Yankee willingness to use government to improve economy and society remains one of the two main poles of American political culture in the 21st century. (See Fischer 1989, pages 13-206,  “East Anglia to Massachusetts: The exodus of the English Puritans, 1629-41.” Bolding of dates added.)

Center North (The Midlands).Originally, the Midlands referred to the center-north part of England from which the American mid-Atlantic was originally settled by Quakers: a dissenting group that was highly religious but very pluralistic. As a result, the Quakers and Puritans did not get along. The Quakers landed in the valley of the Delaware River around what became Greater Philadelphia, later expanding due west along a narrow geographical band that Woodard calls The Midlands (really New Midlands). That band was settled mostly by radical Protestant exiles (basically from along the Rhine river, originally from the Netherlands, later from the Palatinate in southwestern Germany). They were among the earliest advocates of the abolition of slavery and the separation of Church and State. This mix of views made the (New) Midlands long a key swing region: Sometimes willing to go along with efforts to improve the world, sometimes reacting against too much government activism. (See Fischer 1989, pages 419-604, “North Midlands to the Delaware: The Friends’ migration, 1675-1725).

[See also Coastal Northwest or Left Coast, treated below under WEST.]

South   2.2

The SOUTH coalition consists of three contiguous ethnoregions in the Greater Southeast and one outlier region, the High West or Far West (treated below under WEST).

South-Central Atlantic (Tidewater).This aristocratic culture landed around the Chesapeake Bay not far from what later became Washington, D.C. Its bearers were “Cavalier younger sons of southern English gentry aiming to reproduce semifeudal manorial society.” (Woodard, following Fischer). These aristocrats wished to practice an elite republicanism, with little mass participation by the indentured servants they brought with them to Tidewater to do its work. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Virginia was the most populous state in the USA. It strongly influenced the Constitution (elitist institutions such as the Senate and Electoral College) and provided many early presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe). Nevertheless, Tidewater did NOT spread inland because blocked by other ethnoregions. Eventually Tidewater accepted the secessionist lead of the Deep South. Like most of the rest of the South, Tidewater became Republican after 1960s Democratic civil rights legislation favored African-Americans. However, recently, Washington suburbs have become increasingly populous and increasingly Democratic, converting Virginia into a swing state. (See Fischer 1989, pages 207-418, “The south of England to Virginia: Distressed Cavaliers and indentured servants, 1642-75.)    

Deep South. This hierarchical culture of English sugar planters from the Caribbean island of Barbados landed around Charleston, South Carolina (1670/1680). It later spread along the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains as far as east Texas. The Deep South pursued a slave republic like those of Western classical antiquity, based on aristocratic privilege and white supremacy. The North abolished slavery during the Civil War but, after the North ended its military occupation in 1879, the South restored much of its racially unequal way of life. Even in the early 21st century, the Deep South still tries to discourage African-American participation in politics and remains distrustful of any black exercise of political leadership (including that by Obama). Nevertheless, within the Deep South, the eastern metropolis of Atlanta and the western metropolis of Houston are quite progressive. (Fischer 1989 does not treat this ethnoregion independently, instead treating it as an extension of Tidewater).

Center South (Greater Appalachia). This culture from the unruly borderlands of northern Britain landed in the upland Appalachian backcountry and spread across the inland South Central United States as far as the Hill Country of central Texas. Following their election of Appalachian Andrew Jackson as president in 1828, Appalachian frontiersmen succeeded in defining their extremely individualistic culture as the essence of  “American.” During the Civil War, Appalachia allied with the Deep South, though somewhat unwillingly: like poor whites in the Deep South, they despised blacks, but they also despised white southern hierarchicalism. Arguably Appalachian populism has sometimes been a progressive force in American politics, sometimes a reactionary one. Within current American conservatism, Appalachians reinforce the objection of economic conservatism to government intervention in the economy. However, their libertarianism opposes the desire of social conservatives to have government intervene in society and culture. (See Fischer 1989, pages 605-782. “Borderlands to the backcountry: The flight from North Britain, 1717-1775.) Also Jim Webb 2005Born fighting: How the Scots-Irish shaped America. New York NY:  Broadway 384 pages. Also Michael Lind 2003Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern takeover of American politics. New York NY: Basic Books/New America, 224 pages.) 

[See also High West or Far West, treated below under WEST.] 

ETHNOREGIONS:  LATER  COMPLICATIONS   3

The main later regional allies of the NORTH and SOUTH coalitions have come from the WEST. “Other” ethnogregions in North America have played a minor role in American politics.

West  3.1

Southwest (El Norte).Here the distinctive regional culture is that of “northerner” Mexicans (nortenos) on both sides of the Mexico-USA border. Very early conquest by Spain (in the 1500s) taught the Native Americans of this region Spanish, so they now appear in American political demography as “hispanics.” They were long suppressed by white settlers, who continue to dominate the region’s politics and vote mostly Republican. Nevertheless, the Southwest is now the USA’s main area for growth of Hispanic population and assertion of Hispanic influence. In some localities Hispanics have already become a majority minority – for example, in Los Angeles, the biggest metropolis in the region. (To define closely related terms: “Latinos” are immigrants from anywhere in Latin America, most but not all of whom speak Spanish. “Chicanos” are immigrants from Mexico, and constitute most of the “hispanics” in Southwest.)

Coastal Northwest (The Left Coast).By the middle of the 1800s, Yankees from the Northeast sailed around South America and began settling the Northwest Coast, from San Francisco north through Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. They were joined there by migrants who came overland, particularly from Greater Appalachia. Therefore, Woodard says that Northwest “Combines New England idealism with Appalachian individualism: productive of environmentalism, information, and (with New Netherland) gay rights, peace, and 1960s [radicalism?]. Closest ally of Yankeedom against libertarian-corporate Far West. ” As indicated by the “left” in Woodard’s label “Left Coast,” this region votes mostly Democratic. 

High West (The Far West).  Because the high and dry High West was so inhospitable to agriculture, it was settled late and sparsely, requiring large investments in infrastructure and mining by the federal government and large corporations, which have dominated the region’s economy and politics ever since. Woodard regards it as an internal colony that remains semi-dependent. Accordingly, Woodard remarks that here environment trumps ethnicity: what matters is not political culture but political economy. According to Woodard, other regions treated the High West as an internal colony, and it remains semi-dependent. The region gets far higher subsidies from the federal government than other ethnoregions, at the same time that the corporations that benefit most from those subsidies object most strenuously to government intervention in the economy. Ordinary citizens do not benefit from much federal subsidies, so they join the corporations in rejecting government regulation. Basically Republican, though a few areas may be turning Democratic (such as elite suburbs of Denver, or areas with high Hispanic populations).  

Other  3.2

For anyone who is curious, here are Colin Woodward’s tenth and eleventh nations. In addition, I provide a note on African-Americans.

First Nation.Native American peoples were of course the original inhabitants of North America. Unfortunately, most of them died out or were moved from their original homelands to small “reservations” in the middle of the continent. An exception are the Arctic “First Nation” peoples from Greenland across northern Canada to Alaska (Inuit, not “Eskimos”). These peoples remain in their ancestral territories and continue to own and exploit them. Woodard argues that, in the early 21st century,  they are achieving a political and economic awakening. So they are both the oldest or newest ethnoregion in North America.

New France.French explorers, missionaries, and traders arrived in North America after the Spanish reached the Southwest but before the English reached Virginia and Massachusetts. The French who became settlers landed in the extreme Northeast (Acadian Maine). Some then spread inland to Canadian Quebec. Others, when expelled from Acadia by Yankees, fled overseas to the Gulf Coast of southern Louisiana (the Acadians). Woodard regards Quebecois as “down-to-earth, egalitarian, consensus driven, mostly liberal.” Their struggle for autonomy within Canada helped pave the way for a similar assertion within Canada by the First Nation. (See David Hackett Fischer 2008 Champlain’s Dream. New York NY: Simon & Schuster, 848 pages. The Acadians’ main contribution to American political culture has been to make New Orleans multi-cultural, preventing it from becoming part of the Deep South.)

African-Americans.No doubt Woodard is correct not to list African-Americans as an ethnoregion, because they do not control the politics of a region. Nevertheless, they do have a distinct political culture. Moreover, they ARE the majority or large minority population within many counties within the Deep South (Black Belt). After migration northward during the Second World War, they are numerous also within the urban cores of many big cities in the North. Brought to America involuntarily as slaves, they came from  many parts of Africa. Their familiarity with tropical agriculture contributed greatly to Southern development. Under slavery, they forged a culture that combined African and American elements and that has contributed greatly to wider American culture (e.g., blues and jazz).

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THE SCHEME OF THIS BLOG

DIMENSIONS OF POSTS

Importance of Post: ***** Big development. **** Small development. *** Continuing trend.

Scope of  Post:  USA only. USA-PRC. USA-other.

Type of Process:  Elite power struggle. Elite policy politics. Mass participation.

Type of Treatment:  Current commentary. Comprehensive background. Academic analysis.

DIMENSIONS OF POLITICS

Policy  Sectors:  Security. Economy. Identity

Spatial  Levels:  Supranational. National. Subnational

Temporal  Periods:  Shortrun. Midrun. Longrun

STANDARD  TOPIC  TAGS (BIAOQIAN)

SECURITY

Defense

Diplomacy

Intelligence

Presidency (national security team)

Homeland security

State coercion: Police & Prisons

Citizen violence: Collective riots & Individual harm

ECONOMY

Climate change

Trade & Investment

Fiscal policy

Macroeconomy

Energy & Environment

Business

Employment & Income

IDENTITY

Propaganda

Immigration

Ideology

Race & Ethnicity

Gender & Age

Moral regulation

Alternative lifestyles

SUPRANATIONAL

Global

United Nations

International regimes

Subglobal regions

Major foreign powers

Neighboring countries

Cross-border regions

NATIONAL

Legislative

Executive

Judicial

Parties

Interest groups

Media

Public opinion

SUBNATIONAL

Subnational regions

States

Metropolitan regions

Cities

Counties

Communities & Associations

Citizen participation (elections, activism)

SHORTRUN (Current dynamics)

This week

Past few weeks

Next few weeks

Past few months

Next few months

Past few years

Next few years

MIDRUN (Foreseeable future)

Regime shift

Regime change

Trends

Cycles

Discontinuities

Variables

Parameters

LONGRUN (History, evolution)

American political development

Comparative political development

Longrun economic growth

Longrun social history

Longrun cultural change

Major civilizations

Human evolution

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