Sacrifice zones in rural and non-metro USA: fertile soil for authoritarian populism

Marc Edelman | 2018
Posted in: Working Class Experiences
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Sacrifice zones – abandoned, economically shattered places – are spreading in historically white rural areas and small towns across the United States. Rural decline fosters regressive authoritarian politics.

Read: Sacrifice zones in rural and non-metro USA: fertile soil for authoritarian populism

Professor Marc Edelman (Hunter College and Graduate Center, City University of New York) is a scholar, published in multiple languages, of rural social economic development, rural social movements, and agrarian rights. Since this publication in 2018 Edelman has been widely quoted and interviewed regarding his scholarly insights into partisan social and cultural divides in the United States with primary reference to ‘rural sacrifice zones’, and other disinvestment and neglect of rural American communities. Notable sources to read, in the public domain, include The 40-Year Robbing of Rural America, and Hollowed out Heartland, USA: How capital sacrificed communities and paved the way for authoritarian populism, 2021, in the Journal of Rural Studies, 82, 505-517.

Here is a section from the ‘Conclusion’ of Hollowed out Heartland:

“The devastation of rural communities … points to the need for an understanding that emphasizes holism and interconnectedness and that acknowledges the burdens of history, whether the longstanding, deeply-rooted racism pervasive in the United States or the more recent destruction wrought by neoliberal financialized capitalism in rural and urban sacrifice zones. It is important to underscore as well that the recent rise of authoritarian populism is a symptom of this devastation rather than a proximate cause. Indeed, the “populist moment,” in the United States and elsewhere, signals a profound crisis in a neoliberal model dominant during the last three decades that both conservative Republican and liberal Democratic administrations enthusiastically implemented. … Since the 1980s, financial capital has developed imaginative new ways to strip and seize the assets present in rural zones, … The lion’s share of the vast wealth that rural zones produced and continue to produce has accrued to shareholders in corporations and financial institutions headquartered in a handful of distant, economically dynamic urban centers. … The strategies that might begin to reverse this doleful state of affairs are beyond the scope of this analysis, but turning back the authoritarian populist onslaught and refashioning the prevailing commonsense could not be more urgent. At the very least, this must involve re-legitimizing the public sphere and massive public investment — funded by progressive taxation — in order to create a stable, inclusive and more just society that provides opportunities for all especially in the zones that have been sacrificed to capital over the past thirty or more years.”

Edelman’s work should be compared and contrasted with other writers in the Braver Angels Library under ‘Rural/Urban Divide’, ‘Working Class Experiences’, and ‘Growth and Sustainability’.