chapter  2
33 Pages

A Cultural Analysis of the Role of Abolitionists in the Coming of the Civil War

ByWith Richard Ellis

This chapter draws together the disparate recent literature on abolitionism and the Civil War by offering a theoretical framework operating on the same level of generality as the consensus and progressive paradigms. Cultural theory allows readers to transcend the progressive and consensus frameworks by distinguishing three cultures, egalitarian collectivism (abolitionist), hierarchy (Southern slaveholder), and competitive individualism (Northern entrepreneur, including farmers). Derived from the work of anthropologist Mary Douglas, this theory identifies four primary cultures or ways of life: hierarchical, individualist, egalitarian, and fatalist. This fourfold typology is derived from two variables "grid" and "group." Compared to most other places in the world, the United States has been distinguished by the historical weakness of hierarchical forces. An exception to this well-established proposition is the antebellum South. The differences between the egalitarian and individualist cultures are reflected in the frequently used distinction between antislavery and abolition.