Tag Archives: Know Nothing Party

A Possible Parallel?

It’s always dangerous to draw parallels between past phenomenons and current ones–contrary to the old saying, the past really doesn’t repeat itself.

But still.

I was intrigued by an article examining the rise and demise of the Know Nothing Party in the most recent issue of “Religion and Politics,” a political science journal. The Know Nothing Party (KNP) was launched in 1851, and it was dead by 1862. It was rooted in the Nativist movement, and was profoundly anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic and xenophobic.

The authors propose three theories for the sudden rise of the KNP: moral panic (a collective response to social change–a spontaneous “panic” propelled by social stress);  a conflictual cultural cycle (persistent cultural patterns that emerge periodically in response to the sudden visibility of ‘out groups’); and something with which I was previously unfamiliar–Revitalization Theory (religiously motivated movements of discontented persons who want to change the culture.)

The authors concluded that there were elements of all three at work. They noted that–as with all such movements–the KNP looked to a (fantasized) pristine past that they wanted to restore.

Shades of “I want my country back.”

About those parallels….a recent Bloomberg poll found that Tea Party Republicans are “more likely to be male, less financially secure, more pessimistic about the direction of the country and much more antagonistic to President Obama.” The poll notes “anger and alienation” by the GOP rank-and-file, based in part on considerable amounts of misinformation. (Thanks, Faux News…) For example

Two thirds of regular Republicans believe the federal deficit has grown this year, and 93 percent of Tea Party Republicans agree. Both are wrong: the budget deficit is projected to fall this year from 1.1 trillion to 642 billion.

To the extent that we can draw parallels between the KNP and the GOP fringe today, the more pertinent question addressed by the article is: what happened? Why did the KNP have such a short life span?

The article pointed to several factors: internal dissension, newly recruited political figures who were inexperienced and incompetent, rowdyism and sporadic violence by some of the “fringe of the fringe” and ultimately, a recognition that their objectives were simply unachievable.

Food for thought. And hope….