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PART II The Test and Implications 223 The republicans laid out their argument as a series of testable hypotheses. The most important and overarching hypothesis was that the antebellum South developed toward oligarchy. If that hypothesis holds and is broadly accepted, and if its implications are understood, our understanding of the American past, including how that past has affected our present, must change. Selective evidence exists that could be brought forward to challenge the argument of the Republicans. Aristotelian theory predicts that we should find some evidence on the contrary, proving the presence of some oligarchic elements in the North and some republican elements in the South. Actual political regimes are rarely, if ever, entirely uniform, and they never perfectly approximate any of the fundamental forms of political regimes. Aristotle recognized that cities with distinctive regimes contain parts that are characteristic of regimes different from the specific regime that contains those parts.1 One might find genuinely oligarchic men in a democracy and democratic men in an oligarchy. What allows us to say that the regime is one definite type, despite the presence of these different elements, is that one element is dominant and rules. A regime is an oligarchy when the oligarchic element rules according to the oligarchic ruling principle, despite the presence of democratic elements within the city. Over time, the oligarchic regime might PART II THE TEST AND IMPLICATIONS 224 become less generally oligarchic if the popular element becomes generally stronger, or the oligarchic regime might become generally more oligarchic if the popular element becomes weaker.2 In addition to dealing with the reality that regimes contain contrary elements , the further difficulty of testing the Republican hypothesis is that if an oligarchy ever did develop and rule the South, it did so within a vast landmass, far greater than the size of one Greek city, and never did live long enough as a separate nation to reveal what its intentions were with more clarity. We are left with the task of searching for the development of a distinct regime that was, if it existed at all, formally united to another and in which we must expect to find many elements that contradict the Republican hypothesis. The solution to this analytical problem is to cut through the mass of evidence and search for classes of evidence that are dispositive. One class of such evidence is institutional arrangements that would have been key supports of oligarchic rule and in which we would expect to see the oligarchic principle inscribed. Education is the first and most obvious institution to examine: first, because Republicans pointed to the condition of education in the South in support of their hypothesis and, second, because lawgivers construct education to cultivate the character of the regime, and if not, the regime is imperiled, as Aristotle recognized.3 Hence, we should see if educational arrangements in the South supported oligarchic rule. Next, property arrangements are examined. The Republicans argued that the Southern minority hoarded property and prevented the many from prospering , not due to greed simply but owing to their oligarchic presumption that they had a possessory right of ownership to the largest share of everything in political society. Aristotle also saw this presumption as a hallmark of oligarchic regimes.4 In fact, he said that the truly essential characteristic of oligarchy is not that the rulers are few in number, which is an incidental though almost a universal fact of oligarchy, but rather rule by the wealthy.5 Wealth rules and determines the character of the entire political society. Finally, the structure of Southern government is examined to see whether the wealthy few did in fact control and make provision for their control of Southern political society. Chapter 6 targets these institutional arrangements to test the Republican hypothesis. The value of this test may be less in its results than in its demonstration . The test cannot be exhaustive given the mass of scholarly literature touching on these issues, but it does show one approach to determining PART II THE TEST AND IMPLICATIONS 225 what the character of a political regime is and, specifically, what the political character of the antebellum South was. The findings at least seem strongly suggestive that the Republicans were correct about the general direction of political development in the South. These institutional arrangements supported rule of the few, and the results that those institutional arrangements produced, far from being accidental, were justified on oligarchic grounds by their advocates. Chapter 7 begins by...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780826273918
Related ISBN
9780826221353
MARC Record
OCLC
1005201029
Pages
419
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Language
English
Open Access
No
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