George Fredrickson

George Fredrickson

George Fredrickson is considered the founder of comparative history for his ability to compare the history of both United States and South Africa. He is one of the greatest scholars for his immense studies in the areas of national-building and nationalistic histories. In his book White Supremacy: A Comparative Study of American and South African History, the author asserts that United States is not a consolidated nation. In fact, according to his arguments, the states forming the United States federation are just a collection of former colonies that came together for a common course of defense and advantage. He draws his argument from the autonomy and sovereignty that the states enjoy.  Essentially, the only reason why the nation has a central authority is due to the unsuccessful attempt by the southern states to secede from the federal nation (Foner, 2014). While the argument has drawn controversy across the field of academia, it is logically true owing to the strong arguments put forth. Indeed, America as a country is only but a collection of autonomous states with little central federal authority.

American states are at times referred to as the laboratories of democracy in reference to their autonomous powers. In addition, the different states guard their independence and are able to define their unique destinies whether good or bad. In so doing, the states are more independent than the country as a whole thus leading to increased sovereignty at the local level. This outcome leads to the revelation that the states are just independent nations joined by a similar course and to achieve economies of scale. On the other hand, the same states enjoy much more independence and are free to make their own decisions regarding their unique courses. This assertion is no better evident than in the fact that most of the cities have unique legislations and rules that sometimes go against the rules of the entire nation. As thus, the states are not like cities where the central government offers the entire rule.

One of the main reasons for Fredrickson’s assertion is the fact that states existed autonomously from the start and never ceased to do so after the revolution. In fact, the main reason why the southern states grappled with the idea of secession is the fact that they realized they were free to make their own rules. Automatically, therefore, the states realized that they had no common goals and even the ones that were common could be explored independently. This is in contrast with the pre-revolution America where the native Indians governed themselves in unity. However, after the entry of the different colonies from across Europe, American states gained autonomy and thus the push for secession of the southern states.

The states in America are self funded and do not depend on funding from the central government. Actually, some of the funding from the central government requires that the states act in a certain way that is deemed beneficial to the central government (Foner, 2014). If they do not meet the set conditions and requirements, they are deprived of the funding, something that is quite common in the country. Therefore, the states are not united by a shared goal but because they depend on the central government for funding. In addition, most of the states provide the basic services of education, welfare and healthcare among others. Each of these states has its own unique administration dictating the manner in which these services are administered.

The law making process is also another source of autonomy for the American states therefore giving credit to Fredrickson’s arguments. The nature of the laws passed in the different states is evidence of the disunity and lack of nationalism in the country. However, Fredrickson’s assertion that the states are just autonomous neighbors with no common goals is not an attack on American nationalism. If anything, it is only an eye-opener to the problems that face the country’s push for nationalism. It should thus be taken to positively influence the restructuring of the country to conform to better nationalistic views. In making such statements, Fredrickson had the interest of America at heart. In no way is he attacking the sovereignty of the American nation as a whole but rather amplifies the autonomy of the different states. In any case, his assertions do not reflect his personal will but the reality on the ground. The only error that the author commits is pointing out the true nature of the relationship between the different states and their lack of unity.

The push for unity of the United States of America after the southern states had planned to secede from the country is a pointer to the lack of union among the states (Foner, 2014). The only reason that such unfolding could emerge can only be traced back to the existence of disunity among the different states. In addition, these states knew that they were capable of seceding from the country because there existed weaknesses in the nationalism of the country. Otherwise, there would have been no attempt at secession had the states been aware that their plans held no water. In contrast, their decision to give it a try points to the possibility of having their autonomous powers exercised and the eventual collapse of the country as a whole. Attempts to consolidate the power at the centre, thereby averting such occurrences, are only a desperate attempt to make the states united. This is not to say that they end up more united though as other evidences continue to reveal. For instance, the contrast in the laws and regulations passed in different states points pout to a lack of unity in the same states.

There have been various suggestions regarding the implications of Fredrickson’s utterances on the purpose of nationalistic histories in America. While most of the controversy stems from the suggestion that it’s an attack on America’s nationalism, such controversies are not grounded on factual evidence. Fredrickson’s arguments are based on empirical evidence from studies he has conducted for a very long time (Foner, 2014). Confronting and opposing the same arguments from an emotional viewpoint is therefore an insult to intelligence and cannot be used to substantiate the claims put forth. The only implication from the findings from Fredrickson’s book is to give a wakeup call to the American people to explore unity in many different ways. Indeed, sovereignty is not a right of the government but a reserve for the citizens in the country. It is the people that must decide on the destiny they choose to explore and make their wishes known to the government. Ideally, Fredrickson’s arguments only serve to point out the different weak points in the unity of the American states. They are in no way a reflection of his desires but a pure testament of truth and facts. Condemnation of the author cannot then be effective in correcting the issues that he has pointed out in the book.



Foner, E. (2014). Give me liberty!: An American history. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

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