Political Change in California: Critical Elections and Social Movements, 1890-1966
Reagan and Reality: The Two Californias
Ronnie and Jesse: A Political Odyssey
The Destruction of California
Anti-California: Report from Our First Parafascist State
The Secret Boss of California
Long ago Carey McWilliams, among the wisest commentators on California, said that “the time has not come to strike a balance for the California enterprise. There is still too much commotion—too much noise and movement and turmoil.” There is still plenty of commotion and turmoil but, if several of the authors under review are right, the time may have come for the Owl of Minerva to take flight. Morbidity is fashionable now, of course, and California is not its only subject. Longeur, fatigue, decay, stasis, playing-out, running-down, destruction, and death are themes so pervasive in contemporary culture that they need no further elaboration here. California, though, seems to provide a special stimulus to the imagination of disaster.
Most of the fear, detestation, and melancholy with which California is analyzed and written about is visited on Los Angeles or southern California, but in Raymond F. Dasmann’s The Destruction of California and in Kenneth Lamott’s Anti-California not even the San Francisco Bay region is let off. Similarly, there is no sense of difference between the north and south in The Secret Boss of California, the memoirs of “Artie” Samish, the king of California lobbyists. In his now dated revelation of the moral and political squalor of decades of government by organized special interests, Samish makes it clear that most legislators holding office throughout California during his reign could be had, and he claims that he had them.
Nevertheless, there are striking cultural and political differences between southern California and most of the rest of the state. The differences are not so great as Michael P. Rogin and John L. Shover allege but these writers offer the most penetrating analysis of California politics of all six books, and their analysis rests finally on the problem of the south. Former Governor Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, in Reagan and Reality, a book that obviously gave him great pleasure to write, puts it as follows:
Legally, the land between the Mexican and Oregon borders is one state, but the societies of people separated by the Tehachapi Mountains are as different as night and day. Northern Californians, particularly in the San Francisco area, tend to be politically progressive, tolerant of divergent viewpoints, and significantly influenced by intellectual leaders. Southern Californians, particularly in such booming areas as Orange County, tend to be politically reactionary, intolerant of individual deviations from majority WASP attitudes, and suspicious of intellectuals.
Brown makes clear his preference for the north, yet, upon his defeat by Reagan, he joined a Los Angeles law firm and took up residence in Beverly Hills.
One cannot understand the politics and culture of California unless one grasps the extent of the north-south difference. But to let it go with the observation that the two regions are as “different as night and day” is to be the victim of a half-truth. Rogin and Shover seem to argue that “southerners,”…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.