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Gopnik: America`s Historic Prosperity = "White People With Guns Owning A Giant Chunk Of Well-Irrigated, Very Well-Harbored Real Estate"
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October 23, 2012, 10:54 PM
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Adam Gopnik has an eloquent review in The New Yorker called "Faces, Places, Spaces: The Renaissance of Geographic History" of a few books on the importance of geography, including Robert Kaplan`s latest. 

This paragraph by Gopnik will seem less novel to my readers than to most others:

The new space history has one great virtue. It forces upon historians, the amateurs we all are as well as the pros we read, a little more humility. American prosperity looks like a function of virtue and energy, but the geographic turn tells us that it’s mostly a function of white people with guns owning a giant chunk of well-irrigated, very well-harbored real estate off the edge of the World Island, bordering a hot land on one side and a cold one on the other. Really, you can’t miss. Our geographic truth enters our songs and sagas even if it evades our sermons: O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain; this land is my land, from the redwood forest to the gulf-stream waters. The geographic truth beneath our prosperity is as naturally sung by our bards as the olive oils and wine-dark sea at the heart of Greek culture were sung by theirs.

This is basically Benjamin Franklin`s argument from Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind that life in America is happier than in Europe because the population density is lower and thus land costs are lower and wages are higher, so it makes sense to limit immigration. Speculating freely, I`d guess the chain of influence goes to Adam Gopnik from his sister, cognitive scientist Alison Gopnik, from cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, from me, from Old Ben.

I`d have some specific criticisms of Gopnik`s essay, but it`s really much better than the average, so you owe it to yourself to read it. My impression is of an urban Ashkenazi intellectual groping in good faith to recover some knowledge and wisdom lost when people without much connection to land came to dominate highbrow discourse.