When we look at the complexity and diversity of modern Texas we realize that any single list of qualities that we might label "Texan" will be partial, overly static, not applicable to everyone in the state, and maybe even internally contradictory. Texas is home to a large, diverse population - millions of people across a large territory - with a broad variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds, economic interests and activities, and significant regional variation.
The diversity contained in Texas was recognized even in the Joint Resolution of the U.S. Congress of Annexing Texas, passed in 1845, which allowed that new states, not to exceed four, could be formed out of Texas territory, for a total of five possible states. The politics of slavery prior to the Civil War, the diversity of the state's economic interests, the possibility of expanding influence in the U.S. Senate, and the general expansion of political offices contributed to the recurrence of division proposals as late as the 1930's. Such proposals largely dropped out of sight after that, though the provisions for division were briefly reexamined in the wake of Governor Perry's reference to the legality of Texas secession during a 2009 rally in Austin.
A complex interplay of diverse historical, institutional, economic, geographic and social forces continually redefines how people of Texas think of themselves. Being a Texan means being alternately independent, rugged, individualistic, simple, straightforward, doggedly determined, and proud; sometimes boastful and brash, materialistic but moralistic; religious; distrustful of government yet respectful of authority; believing in competition and survival of the fittest, yet concerned for those who might be down on their luck.
Sorting through all this is daunting. But, any understanding of politics in the state is incomplete without some attempt to examine the interplay of forces that shape Texans' views of themselves and their fellow residents of the state.
In the modern era, the various strands of Texas political culture could be boiled down to three main ideological tendencies: economic liberalism (faith in the "free market" economy) combined with social conservatism (favoring traditional values and moralism), overlaid with populism (promoting the rights and worthiness of ordinary people). These ideological tendencies have found their expression in a dominant political culture that tends to favor low taxes, low government services, and pro-business policies.
We should regard these three tendencies as the foundation of our political culture, on top of which are built other somewhat less permanent values, attitudes, and viewpoints all interacting in complex ways with other societal forces. The video segments on this page illustrate different manifestations of this complex interplay of forces shaping our political culture.
University of Texas anthropologist Richard Flores, drawing on his book Remembering the Alamo: Memory, Modernity, and the Master Symbol (2002), argues that around 1900-1910 a series of important technological and economic developments fundamentally altered the social landscape in rural Texas, and had a particularly strong negative impact on Mexican Americans. Specifically, he focuses on three developments at the turn of the century that together undermined Mexican Americans: the massive growth of railroads, the invention of barbed wire, and the introduction of irrigation. Flores points out how these economic, political and social dynamics dovetailed to form a distinct transition to a new historical era - with developments in each area reinforcing developments in the other two areas.
The complexity and diversity of culture in our state are also evident in the recollections of former state house member, state Senator, and U.S. House member Craig Washington and former Texas House staffer and current lobbyist Jack Gullahorn. Their discussion reveals the complex interplay between race and regional culture against the backdrop of the institutional setting of the Texas legislature in the early 1970s.
Yet another dimension of the dynamism and diversity of our culture is revealed in the comments of UT historian G. Howard Miller in his analysis of the intersection of religious diversity, urbanization, and regional differences in the state.
In this chapter we will explore the way that the various strands of Texas political culture complement and contradict each other, and the way that they interact with our state's history, socioeconomic structure, and political institutions and actors.