From Warm Center to Ragged Edge

My friend Jon Lauck is a man of many parts: a lawyer, a historian, and a long-time adviser to Senator John Thune. Jon is a native South Dakotan and a Midwesterner through-and-through. As such, he has long pondered the fact that the Midwest is in many ways the most successful part of the United States. In the 19th century, the Midwest developed a superior civic culture that has produced a prosperous, democratic and peaceful history–in which, for some reason, historians take little interest. Historians study New England, the South, and the West, but they assiduously ignore the heart of America, the Midwest. Why?

Jon explored that question in The Lost Region: Toward a Revival of Midwestern History. He and a handful of other historians are trying to revive the study of Midwestern history. We should cheer them on, in part because Midwestern success has mostly been conservative success.

Jon has just published a new book, From Warm Center to Ragged Edge: The Erosion of Midwestern Literary and Historical Regionalism, 1920-1965. The Associated Press, somewhat surprisingly, covers the book’s launch:

The name of President Donald Trump appears only once in professor Jon Lauck’s new book about perceptions of the Midwest as “flyover country,” and then only in a footnote involving polling in Missouri.

Yet the book’s exploration of decades-old historical trends helps explain the attraction Trump held in the election for people who felt alienated by the political and cultural mainstream.

“When the twentieth century dawned, the American Midwest stood tall as the republic’s ascendant and triumphant region…economically prosperous, politically formidable, culturally proud, and consciously regional,” Lauck writes in “From Warm Center to Ragged Edge: the Erosion of Midwestern Literary and Historical Regionalism, 1920-1965.”

Yet just a few decades later, in an era of growing globalism, “vocal intellectuals recast the Midwest as a repressive and sterile backwater filled with small-town snoops, redneck farmers, and zealous theocrats,” wrote Lauck, a history and political science professor at the University of South Dakota.

The AP quotes Jon:

It is a major cultural problem in this nation, the extent to which the coasts dominate the culture — Manhattan and Hollywood in particular.

The book’s title is a quote from The Great Gatsby. I haven’t yet read Jon’s book, but I heartily recommend it, along with his other works. This is a low-news summer, and the vacuum is being filled with idiotic “news” stories that are mostly politically-motivated, and soon will be forgotten. If you want to read something of more permanent interest than tomorrow’s Russia story–and the next day’s, ad infinitum apparently–check out one of Jon Lauck’s books.


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