John Steinbeck was an Adlai Stevenson supporting, Nixon hating Democrat. George Orwell once called him a communist. No one has ever referred to him as a conservative. Yet, I am more aligned to him than many modern American so-called conservatives. How can this be?
In 1966 Steinbeck published a book of nine essays titled America and Americans. In the composition Created Equal, he provides some of his thoughts on the causes of the American Civil War.
“In the years leading up to 1861 the North and South growled and argued, compromised and were split again, muttered and grumbled toward war”.
“This was just a way of deciding on one kind of economy or another”.
“And the slave, except as a vehicle for that emotion, had nothing whatever to do with it”.
Those of us who think this way today are chastised by the left and the right almost equally. We are called Lost Causers or worse. Steinbeck was born in California and lived much of his life there and in New York where he died. He was no Southerner.
He must have been a white supremacist or racist. Wrong. There is no way to have that view if you read his 1963 Saturday Review piece titled Atque Vale. In it he powerfully defends civil rights and black leaders. In fact, the piece is chastising whites of the era.
While Steinbeck left Stanford University before he finished his degree, the charge of being uneducated has never been leveled. Contemporaries said he was a student of history and science. His best friend was a scientist and without significant grounding in the intricacies of American history we would not have heard of East of Eden.
It is unlikely that he did not understand the history of the American Civil War. That leaves just one conclusion. The rules have changed as Steinbeck warned. When he looked back, he saw that the country had a set of rules that were the foundation of her success.
“rules concerning life, limb, and property, rules governing deportment, manners, conduct, and rules defining dishonesty, dishonor, misconduct, and crime.”
Conservatism and history are not the same as they were. The rules have changed.