what you are not making, oh, what you are so vividly not!"
William James, 1905
was wonderful to find America, but it would have been more wonderful
to miss it."
Mark Twain, Pudd'n'head Wilson
to sit at the foot of Old Glory and awake in the dawn's early
light, but much to my surprise, when I opened my eyes, I was a
victim of the great compromise."
~ John Prine, 1972
THE HOPE OF ALL MANKIND: u2018AMERIKA, DU HAST EST BESSER'
I jest. There is no dark night of the American soul, certainly
none of which very many Americans are aware. Americans almost
never brood. Americans seldom think deeply about the nature of
things. No indeed, we are innocent; born that way, we deserve
no less than to be recognized by everyone, everywhere, as the
great exception to the normal lot of mankind. Our leaders in particular
embody — or at least wield – this primordial innocence.
they get a lot of help from the American public. It begins to
seem a case of toxic leaders and infected masses, but if the masses
are infected, it is with a set of notions that can rightly boast
of a long genealogy. These u201CAmericanu201D ideas turn out, on further
inquiry, to stem in large measure from the heritage of Greater
New England, with all the problems implied in such a proposition.
What we have
to contend with is a set of long-standing assumptions that drive
Americans into the arms of leaders able to wield the political
language in question. Once in a while, the leaders themselves
believe in these ideas. So old are these ideas, so automatic the
response to them, that Americans give the appearance of unthinking
assent, the minute any of them are put on the table.
example, to say u201Cthat's historyu201D is, in the American idiom, to
say that something is gone, overthrown, or unworthy of heed. It
is last year's rock star, yesterday's paper. Someone once commented
that Americans think of history as a series of bad things that
happen to other people. With little knowledge of history and geography,
Americans are always u201Csurprisedu201D by events in the wider world;
they are surprised to learn that Albanians are not from Albany
or that our u201Cway of lifeu201D is not everywhere admired or coveted.
just been u201Csurprisedu201D about looting in Iraq, and they will doubtless
be further surprised as their illusions – or at least their
leaders' proclaimed illusions – run up against reality in
half a world away from their home.
enough, President Bush has been giving expression to the typical
American view of history in his recent pronouncements.
goodies, material wealth, one TV set per room, and there is nothing
especially wrong with that. That u201Cmaterialismu201D narrowly construed,
or u201Ccapitalismu201D as such, is behind the ongoing malaise in American
life is quite wrong. Conservative historian John Lukacs makes
the interesting point that u201Cit is not the American heart which
is materialist. It is the American mind…. Americans only think
in materialist terms. But this is very important, because, by
so thinking, they become materialistic.u201D
Instead, for various reasons, American leaders allied to particular
political and material interests stand ready to exploit this —
and other — acquired habits of the American mind.
and their exploitation are the burden of this essay.
HABITS OF MIND
every last defect of the American character is on display in our
leaders' speeches, in our media, and in the responses of the general
public. These include mawkish sentimentality, corrosive innocence,
intellectual insularity, and technical-scientific know-it-all-hood
combined with a striking ethical, historical, and sociological
u201Cfailure is not an option,u201D shock and horror that anyone might
knowingly and willingly refuse to live as we do. The surprise,
shock, and horror apparently give way rather quickly to Shock
and Awe, to punish those who reject our u201Cway of life.u201D
are content, for the most part, with a purely technical
competence combined with an unconscious and genial Philistinism,
neither of which ever asks to know in any serious manner the
purposes to which technique is to be put. This is not all
bad, and would not constitute a threat to the world, or indeed,
to ourselves, if our leaders could leave anything alone for a
few minutes at a time. Unfortunately, our leaders have had Great
Ambitions for a long time, even if the ambitions of the current
leaders surpass all belief.
Riencourt wrote in 1957, that Americans are the pragmatic, state-building,
road-building, law-giving Romans, relative to the creative, fractious,
and difficult Europeans, who are the Greeks in this tragedy or
farce. Unlike the Romans, however, we manage to combine
our practical-technical outlook with a set of unworldly obsessions
and abstractions, which we project onto the world.
Much of this,
again, is built into the culture, but might, nonetheless, not
be a great problem, were it not that US leaders exploit and manipulate
certain inbred habits of American thought in order to achieve
sundry ends — ends to which even the voters might object if they
could be bothered to look into them.
IDEAS AND BIG MISSIONS
background to American habits of though was British insularity,
which, across the water, blossomed into u201CAmerican Exceptionalismu201D
– the notion that America is by right, or happy accident,
exempt from most trials to which the rest of humanity is heir.
Alongside insularity came the Black Legend — the idea that nothing
good had, or ever could, come out of Iberian Catholic culture.
This theme was especially evident, once New Englanders took up
writing the history of the Spanish Empire and the Dutch Republic.
gave the northeastern Anglophones a built-in villain in their
historical drama, though they added others closer to home soon
would become a central theme of American history was found in
the Puritan form of English Protestantism that prevailed in New
England. From the Puritan u201Cmissionu201D stems the US World Mission.
Much of the ideological fervor of the American Revolution resulted
from a crossing of Puritan ideas with republican theory. Ever after, sundry changing forms
of postmillennialist, premillennialist, and (very generally) u201Cpietistu201D
theology played a key role in American cultural and political
matters were a bit complicated on the theological side,
it is sufficient for present purposes to know that the post-Puritan
ideas coming out of New England centered on such notions as the
Kingdom of God on Earth, reforms to bring that about, and an American
(i.e., New England) mission to spread the resulting system to
the wider world. The late Murray Rothbard wrote as follows of
the u201Cnewu201D pietism of the early 19th century: u201CIn the
North, especially in Yankee areas, the form of the new Protestantism
was very different [from that found in the South]. It was aggressively
evangelical and postmillennialist, that is, it became each believer's
sacred duty to devote his energies to trying to establish a Kingdom
of God on Earth, to establishing the perfect society in America
and eventually the world, to stamp out sin and u2018make America holy,'
as essential preparation for the eventual Second Advent of Jesus
carriers of these ideas were Yankees, that is, u201Can ethnocultural
group descending from the original Puritans of Massachusetts,
and who, beginning in rural New England, moved westward and settled
upstate New York (u2018the Burned-Over District'), northern Ohio,
northern Indiana, northern Illinois, and neighboring areas. As
early as the Puritan days, the Yankees were eager to coerce themselves
and their neighbors; the first American public schools were set
up in New England to inculcate obedience and civic virtue in their
William G. McLoughlin, who basically approves of the havoc pietism
has played with American history, admits that u201Cit would probably
be fair to say that because of its intense pietism America has
produced more hypocrisy per square soul than almost any other
civilization in Christendom.u201D
historian William Appleman Williams, who saw himself as a Tory
or Christian Socialist, says of the original Puritans: u201CDevoted
to the ideal of a corporate community guided by a strong moral
sense, they developed a great talent for misinterpreting any opposition.
From the outset, for example, they were prone to view the Indians
as agents of the Devil, waiting to test their convictions…. But
that definition externalized Evil, thus making it an object
to be overpowered rather than an internal, human weakness
to be contained and transformed…. This propensity to place Evil
outside their system not only distorted the Puritans' own doctrine,
it inclined them toward a solution which involved the extension
of their system over others.u201D
habits carried over into the less-and-less orthodox theology of
the Puritans' successors; and their overall tenor began to resemble
that of latter-day US foreign policy.
I have already
noted the early assimilation of republicanism to millennialism
during our Revolution. Fairly soon, republicanism, wrongly
understood, stripped of its one or two real insights, and loosely
assimilated to Protestant millennialism, became the dominant political
ideology. In a move already anticipated by James Harrington in
1656, James Madison stood the republican theorem about the geographical
limits of limited government on its head. He argued that through
the magic of geographical expansion, which would u201Cdiluteu201D the
evils of u201Cfaction,u201D far-seeing statesmen could long postpone
the institutional crisis thought to be built into republican forms
u201Crevisionismu201D was widely popular and widely accepted. The growing
popular egalitarianism attached to American republicanism engendered
a degree of social leveling, conformism, and petty mental tyranny.
u201CJacksonian democracy,u201D with its sundry internal contradictions
and tendencies, defined the so-called Middle Period of American
development was the historical writing of George Bancroft, a Jacksonian
Democrat who brought German idealism into the mixture. Revising
the developmental trajectory of G. W. F. Hegel, who held that
the Prussian monarchy was history's goal, Bancroft set American
republicanism, or democracy, in its place. This adjustment was,
in a way, a fair u201Cfit,u201D given German idealism's origins in German
this American historicism entailed permanent union and democratic
nationalism. Paul Gottfried, conservative historian of political
thought, comments: u201COne does not have to strain to find here a
Jacobin imagination hidden behind Hegelian language. A consolidated
American national government, a powerful executive representing
the popular will, and a global civilizing mission are the visionary
expectations that one can read into Bancroft's patriotic scholarship.u201D
Hegelian doctrine about the unfolding of history's goals helped
reinforce the expansionist logic built into American republicanism,
a logic running on parallel tracks with millennialist projects.
Thus in June 1852, the United States Democratic Review
editorialized at length (and with no religious imagery) on the
American mission to redeem the world. Crying up a u201Cmonarchical
plot against republicanism [which] has made great strides,u201D the
writer deplored American failure to intervene in the European
revolutions of 1848.
We had failed
to support our natural ally, u201CFrance, the perpetual terror of
all tyrants.u201D But Americans had the right, and ought, to u201Cvolunteer
on the side of libertyu201D; all of them u201Care, or should be republican
propagandists.u201D America, after all, was a state of mind, a set
of propositions (so to speak). Falling just short of today's universal
proposition, the writer observed that anyone u201Ccan become an American
by emigration from any land but Africa, if he desire.u201D
duty of America was to promote u201Cuniversal republicanism.u201D Once
the millions of German, Irish, and other recent immigrants realized
the glory of this project, their votes would decide the presidency.
The winning candidate of the future would be u201Cthe leader who avows
the doctrine of intervention in the next European convulsion.u201D
within this aggressive version of republicanism was a pervasive
egalitarianism, subject (at the time) only to the racial exception
made by the Democratic Review. Conservative historian John
Lukacs underscores the longevity of this theme thusly: u201Csocial
democracy as much as political democracy… equality as much or
perhaps even more than liberty, had been part and parcel of the
American national development long before this century. Beginning
with the Puritans, but not again exclusively attributable to their
influence, a certain extent of social conformity has been characteristic
of American life and society throughout. In the United States,
therefore, we may speak of u2018the socialization of souls' as a powerful
tendency that long preceded the actual establishment of the Welfare
State. It was but strengthened and extended by the arrival of
millions of homeless immigrants and, most of all, by the standardization
of communications and possessions, of words and habits of life,
brought about by industry, technology, and mass production.u201D
rapid expansion through time and space to accommodate these striving
masses effectively falsified Madison's theorem and brought about
the very crisis it was supposed to postpone. But the idea retained
its popularity. Historian Dwight G. Anderson writes that, u201Cas
an indication of how closely related territorial expansion was
to avoidance of constitutional crisis, many Northerners believed,
even after secession occurred, that the Union could be restored
on the basis of Manifest Destiny.u201D
Major L. Wilson argues that Southerners preferred expansion through
space (as seen in Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase), while
Yankees preferred expansion through time, and thereby laid
claim on the Future, radiant or otherwise. Obviously, the latter outfit
had greater, indeed unlimited, ambitions and claims on the world.
sees it, Yankee abolitionists drew on their theology in defining
Southern slavery as a u201Csinu201D rather than the object of practical
reform. At the same time they took from American republicanism
the assumption that any u201Csystemu201D must expand or die. Combining
these two notions, they undertook u201Ccontainmentu201D of the South.
Southerners, who also accepted the expansionist axiom, chose to
form their own confederacy rather than be contained.
does not hide his conviction that containment of the South was
a perfect preview of the rhetoric of the Cold War and the reasoning
behind it. It is no accident that in 1949, historian Arthur M.
Schlesinger, Jr., one of the fence-riders of Cold War liberalism,
wrote an essay attacking historians who regretted the war of 1861–1865
and commending the use of armed force to settle moral confrontations. For many American policy makers
and thinkers, it seems, the struggle is always the same, and war,
or actions leading to war, the best moral shortcut.
with a real future ahead of it was that of the Universal American,
as expressed by Reverend Samuel Harris of Maine in 1861:
u201CIt is the
embodiment of our great American idea into our institutions which
constitutes us as a nation. This is indeed the Saviour’s teaching;
loosely interpreted and applied, that a man is not a Jew
because he is descended from Abraham, but only because, whatever
his descent, he has the faith of Abraham. He who is not in sympathy
with the American idea that breathes in our political institutions,
is an alien unworthy to bear the name of American citizen. But…
everyone who seeks the protection of our government, intelligently
sympathizing with its idea and spirit, he is an American, a native
‘to the manor born,’ by a new political birth, and entitled in
due form of law to become a citizen.u201D
were now Americans by creed, and Southerners, by failing
to agree with the Reverend Harris had become u201Caliensu201D on their
own soil; they had to be blockaded, shelled, and finally, u201Creconstructed.u201D
SAVED UNION UNDERTAKES TO SAVE THE WORLD
The war of
1861–1865 unleashed the whole witches' brew of sacralized
politics carried on by force. Conservative historian Otto Scott
describes the radical abolitionists' contribution as u201Cthe idea
that killing innocent people is no crime in an effort to achieve
a greater good. The new religion had started with arguments against
such relatively harmless sins as smoking and drinking, had then
grown to crusades denouncing and forbidding even commerce with
persons whose morals were held to be invidious; it had expanded
into antislavery as the answer to every ill of humanity; and it
had finally come to full flower in the belief that killing anyone
— innocent or guilty — was an act of righteousness for a new morality.u201D
The war had
numerous consequences, some of which became heavy mortgages against
the future. The eminent historian Francis Butler Simkins wrote
in 1955, the failure of Southern separatism left us with a culture
marked by u201Ca fanatical nationalism, which leaves little room for
sectional variations, a faith in Darwinian progress which leaves
no room for static contentment, and a faith in the American dream
of human equality which leaves little room for one person to get
ahead of another except in making money.u201D
The war greatly
speeded up the progress of state-worship in America. Somehow the
fact that hundreds of thousands had died u201Cpreservingu201D the Union
was taken to prove that the federal government had saved
the people. The lesson of the war years seemed to be that too
much liberty and too much decentalization had u201Ccausedu201D the war;
accordingly, Americans must now affirm the unknowable depths of
federal u201Csovereigntyu201D forever after.
The war gave
a tremendous boost to those thinkers interested in re-tooling
American political life and institutions with the help of various
managerial and state-exalting theories imported from Europe. The
new syntheses, which were, if anything, worse than Transcendentalism,
became the foundations of American political science and sociology.
One of the advanced thinkers was Francis Lieber, a German immigrant
and legal advisor to Lincoln's War Department, who wrote that,
u201Cthe state stands incalculably above the individual, is worthy
of every sacrifice, of life, of wife and children, for it is the
society of societies, the sacred union by which the creator leads
man to civilization, the bond, the pacifier, the humanizer, of
men, the protector of all undertakings in which and through which
the individual has received its character, and which is the staff
and shield of society.u201D
At the same
time, America – that is, the North – acquired what Robert
Penn Warren described as a Treasury of Virtue as a result of saving
the union and emancipating the slaves. This bottomless Treasury of
Virtue reinforced the American tendencies toward self-worship
(= worship of an idealized collective self) and anti-institutionalism
that were part and parcel of the u201CAmerican religionu201D with its
only slightly hidden Gnostic assumption that individual souls
were coeval with God and could communicate with Him directly through
It is worth
adding that, in real-world applications, the American u201Canti-institutionalismu201D
just mentioned has always targeted lesser jurisdictions and intermediate
bodies standing in the way of Progress, and has licensed expansion
of national institutions. The rhetoric currently employed
by the United States with regard to sundry u201Crogueu201D states is quite
interesting in this respect. The language in use might embarrass
the wildest 17th-century antinominian Ranter or the
craziest 19th-century Russian nihilist, but with characteristic
American optimism, US spokesmen cannot imagine that these rhetorical
devices will ever come back to haunt them.
u201Cpublicu201D education – basically a New England project –
in its various historical declensions has tended to make the tendencies
under discussion universal in the United States, whether in the
form of unofficial Protestant u201Ccivic religionu201D or, later, in an
entirely official and de-Christianized form. The Supreme Court
decision on school prayer marks the transition. Certainly, the
pessimistic planter in Ride
With the Devil was right to see the seeds of Northern
victory in the fact that the Yankees in Lawrence, Kansas, put
up their schoolhouse first; for mastery over time required
results of American education are not above criticism. Edward
P. Lawton, a Southerner and retired U.S. Foreign Service officer,
wrote in 1963: u201COne of the weaknesses of American higher education,
and of our educational system in general, is that comparative
judgments in the light of outside standards are so seldom made.
This may well be the gravest defect in our intellectual life;
that our society has evolved since independence virtually unaffected
by the experience of other advanced peoples. Except in the arts
and sciences we have disliked measuring our institutions and achievements
by alien standards.u201D
bloody war of 1861–1865, a secularization of postmillennialist
Protestantism set in. This process yielded among other things
such ambivalent figures as Henry Adams, descendant of two presidents
and son of Lincoln's Minister to Britain during the war. In his
intellectual autobiography, Adams said of Darwinism: u201CUnbroken
Evolution under uniform conditions pleased everyone — except curates
and bishops; it was the very best substitute for religion; a safe,
conservative, practical, thoroughly Common-Law deity. Such a working
system for the universe suited a young man who had just helped
to waste five or ten thousand million dollars and a million lives,
more or less, to enforce unity on people who objected to it; the
idea was only too seductive in its perfections; it had the charm
of art. Unity and Uniformity were the whole motive of philosophy,
and if Darwin, like a true Englishman, preferred to back into
it — to reach God a posteriori — rather than start from
it, like Spinoza, the difference of method taught only the moral
that the best way of reaching unity was to unite. Any road was
good that arrived.u201D
the twists and turns of the New England mind. In a book dedicated
to praising later manifestations of that mindset, Louis Menand
writes that for Adams, u201CThe war was just part of the struggle
for existence, a means by which the species moved ahead.u201D From another angle, it might
be said that the war was a perfect example of a lasting American
confusion between ends and means. A union entered upon as a means
to practical, bounded ends — peace, trade, prosperity — had become
an end itself and a metaphysical proposition to which almost anything
else could rightly be sacrificed.
The war became
a central feature of Americans' collective self-image, a founding
myth able to displace the Revolution itself as a source of inspiration,
precedent, and models for the future. This was essential, if Americans
were to avoid learning some less welcome lessons from the struggle.
As Lawton writes:
any nagging doubts they had to build up their Dream, to idealize
still more the wonder of the Union, to bring God more and more
into it, to exaggerate all national virtues and minimize the realities
that marked their failures. This has gone on increasingly since
1861, and each of our wars has speeded up the process.u201D
says of the war and its resulting cult, that beneath Americans'
u201Cpersistent involvementu201D with the Civil War u201Cis the realization
that the war undercuts the popular mythology that America is unique.
Only a nation that avoided such a conflict could make a serious
claim to being fundamentally different. In accordance with the
logic and psychology of myth, therefore, it has become necessary
to turn the war into something so different, strange, and mystic,
that it could have happened only to the chosen people.u201D
failure of the Southern cause there were few serious attempts
— although the paradoxical case of Utah comes to mind — to get
out from under the looming American nightmare.
By the end
of the 19th century American thinkers like Frederick
Jackson Turner and politicians like President William McKinley
had reflected further on the axiom of republican expansion and
the role of the frontier. The result was a redefinition of the
field of American commercial and reforming activity. The substitution
of foreign markets for the continental frontier seemed the answer
and recapitulated the longstanding New England trader's goal of
engrossing the fabled China Market.
not without peril. As Williams puts it: u201CGiven this expansionist
theory of prosperity and history, the activities of foreign nations
were interpreted almost wholly as events which denied the United
States the opportunity for its vital expansion. A different explanation
of the nation's difficulties would have produced a different estimate
of foreign actions, for not one of these countries actually threatened
the United States.u201D
But we are
getting ahead of our story, and need to look at some other pieces
in the American puzzle.
V. A RESTLESS
PEOPLE ON THE MOVE
and some Americans, long remarked an undercurrent of unrest, discontent,
and dissatisfaction right on the surface of American life. This
had perhaps some relation to the practical fact of a seemingly
unlimited frontier of contiguous land; that, in turn, flowed
from and strengthened the expansionist axiom of American republicanism.
This brings us to geographical mobility in American life.
George W. Pierson writes that u201Ceven before the Erie Canal had
been dug or the Mississippi had been reached Europeans were commenting
on a psychology that owed much to movement: on our friendliness
and hospitality, our casual informality and lack of deference,
our inquisitiveness and our helpfulness with strangers. Already
our feverish restlessness and activity, our boastfulness and psychological
insecurity, our mental and emotional instability were a familiar
story, noticed by foreigners, commented upon by many.u201D A Swedish
visitor, Klinkowstrm, amazedly asked, u201CWhat is it that Americans
will not try?u201D
answer might include restraint, prudence, the Golden Mean, and
a few other things, but no matter.)
the American's fabled option of u201Cstarting overu201D and u201Creinventingu201D
himself by running off to an ever-receding frontier perhaps reinforced
a sense of u201Cnewnessu201D and a cult of youth. Some observers thought
the mobility of American life favored brittle personalities, gullibility
alongside lack of trust, naively sincere religious enthusiasts
beside Herman Melville's Confidence
along the line, the American Dream, centering on material wealth
and on surpassing the achievements of one's parents, set in. Edward
Lawton describes some consequences:
Dream helped to produce nationalism, and the latter intensified
the Dream. Americans who believe in the Dream — and they may be
a majority — think that it is a God-inspired phenomenon, unique
in history. Unless they have some countervailing religious faith
the Dream is likely to be the most idealistic set of beliefs that
they have, touching their deepest spiritual chords and arousing
their noblest resonses. If pressed for a definition of the Dream
most Americans would include such concepts as Liberty, Freedom,
Democracy, as well as equal justice and opportunity for all. The
latter have come to mean not only legal but also social and economic
non-discrimination against disparate racial, religious and other
the Dream as especially the creed of u201Cpoverty-stricken immigrants
from Europe,u201D who found American life such an improvement over
conditions in the native lands that u201CAmerica really came near
to being the Promised Land of their hopes.u201D Associated with u201Crapid
accumulation of wealth,u201D the Dream u201Calso strengthened nationalism
and directed it along imperialist lines. Out of this has come
the great-power psychology in which I see so little virtue. To
derive satisfaction from belonging to the u2018greatest,' u2018strongest'
and u2018richest' nation on earth may seem natural to most Americans;
but wherein lies any merit unless the word u2018greatest' actually
— and not just rhetorically — connotes superior worth? It should
be more gratifying to belong to a small country that lives up
to high ideals than to a great power that does not.u201D
that the American Dream was essentially a Northern, rather than
a Southern phenomenon. It may be unfair to make light
of immigrants' aspirations, but it seems reasonable to say that
the immigrants' notion of the perfect life was not necessarily
very extensive. (u201CIn America, Secret Police only kick your door
in once a month. It was so much worse in Ruritania.u201D)
there has been change over time, as far as American national character
is concerned. De Riencourt observes: u201CThe Pilgrim and Founding
Fathers were far more individualized than present-day Americans,
who live in a world of compulsory gregariousness and mass suggestion,
whose ideal is normalcy and whose essential characteristic
is like-mindedness. Contemporary Americans display a profound
hostility toward human differentiation and deny the very existence
of differences in human values. It was only on such a basis that
democratic equality was made possible. Imbued with a statistical
mentality, the Americans were gradually driven to view quantity
as a symbol of quality because they lost the ability to differentiate
Such an outlook,
writes John Lukacs, has yielded u201Ca certain unrealistic American
habit of reasoning and rhetoric, a tendency to substitute vocabulary
for thought,u201D related in turn to u201Cthe transformation of a previously
sparse, thrifty, and pragmatic people at the expense of common
sense, of plain speaking, and of the recognition of the obvious.u201D
Wittingly or not, the historian of American thought, Merle Curti,
put his finger on a key relationship in 1953, when he noted that
progressive intellectuals of the early 20th century,
armed with statistical correlations, u201Crevolutionized the older
rational social studies by imbuing them with both empiricism
and faith: the great polarity in the American mind, the yawning
chasm between Grand Theory and Abstracted Empiricism was remarked
by writers as different from each other as Murray Rothbard and
C. Wright Mills. Unfortunately, the empiricism hasn't always worked
very well, above all in the social sciences, and the faith remains
what it always was, a speculative, secularized millennialism.
But to give some order to these matters, we must now turn to the
applied, practical side of American life — a realm where Americans
very often set the world's standards.
PRACTICALITY, PRAGMATISM, SCIENTISM
We may begin
with a nod toward the much-advertised Anglo-American u201Cempiricism,u201D
a habit of mind associated with Sir Francis Bacon. From this standpoint
we explain reality wholly in terms of physical objects that we
know through our senses. The Southern conservative Richard
M. Weaver finds the origins of this typically Anglo-Saxon outlook
in late-medieval nominalism: u201CThe practical result of nominalist
philosophy is to banish the reality which is perceived by the
intellect and to posit as reality that which is perceived by the
senses. With this change in the affirmation of what is real, the
whole orientation of culture takes a turn, and we are on the road
to modern empiricism.u201D
inherited empiricist leanings along with their British insularity,
and it is no accident that the most famous American contributions
to philosophy have been pragmatism and instrumentalism, systems
meant to reconcile our practical inclinations with some notion
of the overall pattern of things — and all of this without (openly)
going outside of the framework of empiricism and naturalism.
a tall order, but one of the central figures, John Dewey, coming
out of postmillennialist Protestantism by way of Hegelianism,
was up to the job. His and other, similar systems became the centerpiece
of 20th-century American u201Cempirical collectivism,u201D
u201Cpluralism,u201D and managerial statism, in which there are no absolutes
and we go with the flow, adjusting individual and society to the
unfolding pattern of history, chiefly through society's neutral
and omnicompetent organ, the state.
pragmatism seems to be all about u201Cgetting things done,u201D finding
out u201Cwhat works,u201D and achieving u201Csocial adjustmentu201D through public
policy. It is thus an outlook seems well suited to American society,
even when combined with an odd sort of fatalism.
In most hands,
fatalism would be a rather gloomy outlook.
with their relentless faith in Progress, turn fatalism into a
species of historical inevitably in which every that has happened
so far, had in principle to happen, but fortunately everything
always turns out for the best in America. Lawton noted some applications:
u201CProbably more important in fixing the attitude of Northern unionists
is their fatalistic view of history. Their mixed pragmatic-deterministic
perspective on the events of our past holds that each step in
the national development was for the best to all concerned: Northerners,
Southerners, whites, blacks, Indians, Mexicans, Creoles, recent
immigrants. Thus compromise, in this view, is ruled out; the issues
are too fundamental. The Civil War was, therefore, a total conflict
which could end only in the unconditional victory of one side.
This sounds exactly like the Liberals' view of World War II,
which was also fought to the bitter end….u201D
signs of empiricism and naturalism, Americans naturally adopt
Scientism as their working philosophy. Hence the focus
on gadgets, devices, whosits, – with no higher end than some
immediate practical purpose. Technique becomes its own end, and
the notion sets in that, if you can do something, you must
do it — so that if you could destroy the moon with a very clever
missile, that u201Cprojectu201D must be u201Cstudiedu201D and some damned fool
will actually want to do it.
puts it, u201Cif, for instance, a computer or a superhighway does
not seem to fulfill its function, the American tendency is still
to build another superhighway or to get a bigger computer; it
is to change the original purpose, the human function rather than
the course of the technical solution.u201D
applied science — is seen to work, and in the hands of our ruling
pragmatists, wartime R&D and munitions manufacturing arrive
as the highest stage of scientism. The link to Total War is plain,
and bombing, as perhaps the most noteworthy achievement
of the applied American intellect, follows inevitably.
P. de Seversky, quite mad Russian emigr and air power advocate,
advised Americans in 1942 on the advantages of that military arm:
u201CWhen the skies over a nation are captured, everything below lies
at the mercy of the enemy's air weapons. There is no reason why
the job of annihilation should at that point be turned over to
the mechanized infantry, when it can be carried out more efficiently
and without opposition from overhead. Indeed, the kind of large-scale
demolition, which would be looked upon as horrifying vandalism
when undertaken by soldiers on the ground can be passed off as
a technical preparation or u2018softening' when carried out by aerial
bombing. The technique of three-dimensional blockade — cutting
off exterior contacts and continuously demolishing internal communications
and economic life — can be applied for a protracted period.u201D
u201Cannihilation,u201D u201Clarge-scale demolitionu201D amounting to u201Chorrifying
vandalismu201D but u201Cpassed off as a technical preparationu201D
— such things did not need to be sold to Americans; they already
suited the practical American mindset to a tee. This seems to
confirm de Riencourt's seemingly hostile judgment that u201CAmericans
have, unconsciously and mostly out of sheer idealism, reduced
man to an animal level, although an animal in command of fabulous
great American gift for the practical appears not to reach to
an understanding other societies, or even their languages. Lack
of attention to languages might seem a fault in a people whose
leaders want to drag them around the world on an empire-building
mission. Modest suggestion: If u201Cweu201D can't bother to learn the
relevant language, u201Cweu201D might at least put off invading a country
until people there have had time to learn u201Cworld English.u201D
FROM ASYLUM TO BEDLAM: A TRAGEDY IN THREE OR MORE ACTS
to one side two World Wars, let us take up the story at the beginning
of the glorious Cold War, when Applied American Idealism entered
yet another stage, as u201Cwar liberalismu201D shifted into Cold War liberalism. The Cold War institutionalized state-subsidized,
centralized R&D, u201Cgalloping corporatism,u201D
and a federal takeover of education at all levels (partly under
the banner of u201CCivil Rightsu201D), among other trends. The Cold War
became the ideal backdrop for the pragmatist-pluralists' state-managerial
all the World War II trappings such as bombs, bombers, and bombing
rose to new heights in the Cold War order and u201Cmilitary-industrial
complexu201D eventually became a household word. The American Celebration
sailed smoothly along and Americans evolved overlong arms for
patting their collective back, together with special mirrors in
which to admire themselves.
War opposed Total Good to Total Evil and provided a colossal stage
for American obsessions, overreaching, and misconceived generosity.
Curti summarized Colliers'fictional account of World War
III, which appeared in October 1952, as follows: u201C[T]he Colliers
writers envisaged the reconstruction of a defeated Soviet Union
in accordance with dominant American ideas about freedom and comfort
— including a style show in the Kremlin to give Soviet women the
fashions they have been unhappily pining for these thirty odd
the literary critic Edmund Wilson summed up the culture of the
High Cold War in this manner:
war, the troops and agents of the U.S.A. moved in all over Europe
and Asia, from West Germany to South Korea, and we found ourselves
confronted by the Soviet Union, which was also moving in. Neither
the Soviet Russians nor we were very much beloved by the peoples
in upon whom they had moved. The rivalry of power units had now
reached an even more gigantic scale than that of the British and
German Empires. The Russians and we produced nuclear weapons to
flourish at one another and played the game of calling bad names
when there had been nothing at issue between us that need have
prevented our living in the same world and when we were actually,
for better or worse, becoming more and more alike — the Russians
emulating America in their frantic industrializing and we imitating
them in our persecution of non-conformist political opinion, while
both, to achieve their ends, were building up huge government
bureaucracies in the hands of which the people have seemed helpless.u201D
in 1961, conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet likewise found
Cold War culture unattractive: u201CIn human terms, to suppose that
the United States can long maintain a political and military machine
of containment dimensions without destroying the localism, pluralism,
and free enterprise in all spheres that are the true basis of
American freedom and creativity, is to suppose utter fantasy.
The affinity between militarism and socialist collectivism is,
and has been throughout history, a close one.u201D
years dragged by and then, thankfully, we u201Cwonu201D the Cold War —
or, at least, outspent the other Gnostic enterprise, the Soviet
Union, whose hampered economy collapsed under its own weight.
After a bad patch, during which dedicated empire men had to scrape
several barrels in search of a new threat, Terrorism came along
to save them with a war against Evil.
assertion of the u201Crightu201D of US businesses to entry into all overseas
markets, dating from 1898, has given way to a demand for a worldwide
ideological u201Copenness.u201D I suppose transparency and
Universal Trust will be next. With smart bombs and cruise missiles,
the reigning US ideologists will seek to impose the Civil Rights
Bill of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the rest of our
domestic policies on a presumptively grateful world. I would certainly
be the next to Last Man to oppose such a noble program. Anyway,
one is not supposed to oppose establishing the Kingdom of God
on Earth, Secular Division, when American know-how and firepower
stand as the outward signs of an inward grace.
us full circle, because — given any absurdly utopian or utterly
crazed goal – Americans are very, very good at coming up
with attempted means.
currently in vogue is the policy of inciting and supervising revolution
in other countries – or pretended u201Crevolutions,u201D at least
— under the slogan of widening u201Cthe area of freedom.u201D
US authorities used to complain when the Soviets said, and did,
things like that. Even the Domino Theory has come back, but now
it is a good Domino Theory in which one forcible conversion to
democracy leads to the next one and then to the one after that.
LINCOLN, ETERNAL RETURNS, AND THE UNION MADE UNIVERSAL
Dwight G. Anderson gives an interesting account of the ideological
pattern under discussion and the foreign policies springing from
it. He writes that after 1865, u201Ca regenerate people, relieved
of the original sin of slavery, went forth in the world, secure
in the knowledge that there was no salvation outside the church,
and proceeded to re-found the Union again and again in the international
sphere — in the League of Nations and United Nations, in Latin
America, Europe, and Asia. By winning the war on the terms that
he did, Lincoln not only proved that the Union had God on its
side and that emancipation had divine sanction, but he provided
the ideological rationale whereby the United States could become
lawgiver to the world.u201D
be, on this reading, no logical stopping-pointed for the Saved
Union, because u201Cthe assumption that America's cause is the cause
of all mankind implicitly provides the rationale for the Americanization
of the world: the grand and global alliance of North and South,
East and West, is but the Union writ large and extended to its
ultimate earthly conclusion.u201D In the u201Cpolitical religionu201D presided
over by Lincoln's shade, u201CAmerican political and economic expansion
itself could be seen as redemptive.u201D
Lincoln had seen himself as re-founding the Union — on
his terms – by re-enacting the American Revolution. Thus,
says, Anderson, u201Cthe perpetuation of American liberalism, in short,
can perhaps best be understood not so much as an ongoing tradition
but as a recurrent foundation fantasy, complete with a myth of
the eternal return.u201D
I shall just
note in passing, that the myth of eternal return, in which much
the same events are periodically done all over again, is essentially
the official US view of international relations resembles more
and more that of the Great Khans, as summed up by Eric Voegelin:
u201CAll human societies are part of the Mongol empire by virtue of
the Order of God, even if they are not yet conquered. The actual
expansion of the empire, therefore, follows a very strict process
of law. Societies whose turn for actual integration into the empire
has come must be notified by ambassadors… and requested to make
their submission. If they refuse, or perhaps kill the ambassadors,
then they are rebels, and military sanctions will be taken against
them. The Mongol empire, thus, by its own legal order has never
conducted a war but only punitive expeditions against rebellious
subjects of the empire.u201D
Just as Lincoln
was an u201Cartificial Puritan,u201D
so, too, do Neo-Conservatives (in particular, Straussians) make
an artificial Lincoln the center of their secular theology and
cult. This Lincoln is nothing like the real Lincoln with his real
human faults and (possible) virtues, but a Rouseauian Legislator,
a demigod who founded, or re-founded, the union with far more
u201Cblood and ironu201D than Bismarck used in the wars of German unification.
this Lincoln becomes an eternal civic role model, whose
deeds must be periodically re-enacted as long as America still
view shared by Lincolnians and Mongol Khans, international conflicts
become internal, all resistance u201Crebellion,u201D and all opponents
u201Cunauthorized combatants.u201D Only the U.S. authorities have the
right to decide such things, while carrying out the Will of History,
and international law becomes an expression of their judgment
and whimsy. They feel free to u201Ctryu201D opponents as u201Cwar criminals.u201D
Finally, it becomes an affront for any other power, no matter
how small, to have any weapons at all. If such a power so much
as mentions a right to self-defense, that in itself becomes evidence
of boundless ambition and u201Caggressionu201D directed at the United
US military authorities (too clever by half) have issued u201CWantedu201D
posters for their defeated enemies in the form of a deck of cards,
while the servile press gloats that u201CUS has Saddam's DNA.u201D One
wonders where the u201Cnewsu201D is in that? Eventually, they'll have
everyone's DNA, which u201Ccan and will be used againstu201D the selfsame
Everyone u201Cin a court of law,u201D whatever that last word now means.
that u201CSaddam,u201D like the rest of us, is now on a first name basis
with everyone else, just as he or any of us would be in California.
next joke, in their next war, the US authorities will probably
issue Tarot Cards. Why not? Such gestures, among many others,
are a perfect expression of the conjoncture of boundless
US aspirations (toward what? It doesn't matter), high technology,
and a vulgar, insipid, and moronic popular culture. It is a culture
whose wittiest expression now, and for a couple of decades, has
been u201Ckick ass.u201D No wonder we have to import humorous expressions
from Australia and even the UK.
— with which I am otherwise not directly concerned here –
might well be called the First Demotic War, or the First Fox News
War. No wonder u201Cweu201D had to have the Brits along for the ride:
they still show some knack for using the English language, and,
well, that's like, whoa! It would have been a shame to have a
war without a complete English sentence or two in it, and as we
could not have relied on the president for any of those, it is
just as well that Messrs. Blair and Howard were so keen to help
And so the
debasement of language continues, and under that sign, empty counters
jostle happily alongside mere technique, and thus arises an endless
series of conceptual displacements. We end up being asked
to believe in Freedom the Abstraction, rather than in any concrete
freedoms, and with it, the u201CAmerican way of lifeu201D – in practice
a peculiar cult of unspecified vlkisch values, manipulated
by a managerial elite.
precedent for this. Anderson writes that, u201Cthose who died at Gettysburg
did so not in order to effect their own freedom, but for the
sake of an abstraction — the survival of a nation conceived
in liberty and dedicated to an egalitarian proposition.u201D Since
Lincoln's famous address further called on the living u201Cto dedicate
themselves to the cause of freedom rather than to freedom itself,
this meant that their dedication was not in order to obtain freedom's
immediate effects, but for the sake of political rebirth and immortality.u201D
mobs of abstractions fight for control of the American political
mind — freedom, equality, and America the Abstraction, itself
— especially when it is time to mobilize the people for some cause
dear to their leaders. At home, campaigns and u201Cwarsu201D are made
upon other abstractions like Hate, Violence, Drugs, Poverty, Racism,
Terrorism, and — guaranteed to last a very long while — Evil itself.
We are, after all, the only modern nation to have seriously tried
to outlaw the production and possession of alcoholic beverages,
and to have stayed with it well past the time the idiocy of the
whole thing was more than clear.
Bourne remarked the conceptual displacements accepted by Progressives
who swarmed into Washington to serve the state in World War One:
u201C[W]ith the other prophets of instrumentalism who accompany Dewey
into the war, democracy remains an unanalyzed term, useful as
a call to battle, but not an intellectual tool, turning up fresh
sod for the changing future.u201D Further: u201CTo those of us who have
taken Dewey's philosophy almost as our American religion, it never
occurred that values could be subordinated to techniqueu201D — but
of course they were.
At the rate
we are going, we should not be too shocked, when our grandchildren
are told, that u201Cthe boysu201D – and girls? – u201Care fighting for
our freedomu201D on the moons of Saturn. Whatever the mission, the
troops will have the best technology that quadrillions of inflated
paper dollars can buy. The weapons will be so precise as to hit
a selected molecule on the u201Ctargetu201D and, at the same time, so
destructive as to u201Ctake outu201D that molecule and all the neighboring
molecules found in a space the size of two football fields.
of thing renders the notion of u201Cprecisionu201D rather meaningless,
but you can't ask Americans to short themselves on precision and
destruction. We must have the best of both. Excess is our middle
Such is the
alchemy involved in our expansionist state apparatus and the inflationary
culture it promotes. The project demands monetary inflation and
that, in turn, helps produce the unstable American character under
discussion. In the long run, the resulting instability may someday
undercut the Yankee project of controlling the future.
YOUR KICKS ON ROUTE 666
Nock had this to say: u201CA society that gives play only to the instinct
of expansion must inevitably be characterized by a low type of
intellect, a grotesque type of religion, a factitious style of
morals, an imperfect type of beauty, an imperfect type of social
life and manners. In a word, it is uncivilized.u201D
does appear to be stable, however: Once you brainwash and bamboozle
the American masses, they stay brainwashed and bamboozled. After
Pearl Harbor, as all Establishment historians like to boast, Americans
believed that u201Cisolationismu201D had become u201Cimpossible.u201D This means,
apparently, that asking our government to mind its own business
— to have that u201Chumbleu201D foreign policy heralded by Bush the Candidate
– is now literally impossible.
One is reminded
of the u201Ccomplex of fear and vaunting,u201D which Garet Garrett said
was a hallmark of empire.
Note that part of the fear comes from the assumption that it is
fatal not to extend our system everywhere. If the whole world
is not the same as we are, in every respect, we shall never be
able to sleep at night.
For us, or
against us: No one may be indifferent.
centuries' trying, American civilization has yielded up a rather
shallow political wisdom and a sort of fractional-reserve culture
in which there is much less than meets the eye. Mr. Bill Bennett
and some others believe the whole thing can be cobbled back together
via some form of compulsory civic religion. I suppose the central
teaching of this indoctrination will be that the U.S. Government
is God, or at least God's representative walking on earth.
an effort in political theology is workable or not is an interesting
question. Edward Lawton argued that a secularized substitute religion
could not succeed: u201CIn mundane things the whole cannot be greater
than the sum of all its parts; and all the parts which go to make
up America do not add up to anything that is holier than many
other advanced nations of the world. The answer that the super-patriots
make to this is to try to suppress analysis, and in this they
have had much success.u201D
Just in passing,
I would add that calls for suppression of speech in wartime chiefly
stem, philosophically, from the demand that every American agree
wholeheartedly with the crusade of the week, and much less from
genuine u201Csecurityu201D concerns. A culture with any genuine self-confidence
would not lie awake at night fretting that Mr. Smith down the
street might not fully u201Csupportu201D the cause of the moment or might
fail to love the president. It ought to be enough that Smith,
however outraged he may be at the course of events, refrains from
appearing in arms to oppose it.
not be a good u201Ccitizenu201D in that respect, but he could well be
a damned good neighbor.
not satisfy those who hold that Will must be One
in order for society to exist at all. Here u201Cnominalismu201D and the
u201CPuritan-Gnosticu201D view of politics coincide in affirming a Will-to-Imperial-Power.
have saved the best for last. In the end, the u201CAmerican religionu201D
— to use Harold Bloom's useful term — was essentially Gnostic.
The various millennialisms had always run in that direction. This
should concern us because, as Eric Voegelin, the subject's most
careful student, wrote: u201CGnostic politics… is self-defeating
in so far as its disregard for the structure of reality leads
to continuous warfare. This system of chain wars can end only
in one of two ways. Either it will result in horrible physical
destructions and concomitant revolutionary changes of social order
beyond reasonable guesses; or, with the natural change of generations,
it will lead to the abandoning of Gnostic dreaming before the
worst has happened.u201D
seems to have been entirely too sanguine and, if nothing intervenes,
an exciting — and monstrous — 21st century looms before
us. Leaders inclined toward Gnosticism, in command and control
of the world's largest-ever array of military might, do not bode
well for the kind of restraint and reflection on which civilization
is built. This is worth pondering as the proponents — or manipulators
– of the u201CAmerican religionu201D continue their figurative march
from the Burned-Over District of upstate New York toward the Burned-Over
Planet of their dreams.
Much of the
above critique — right or wrong, as it may be — was once seen
as distinctly u201Cconservative.u201D It was never a u201Cleftistu201D
some brave, if half-cocked, attempts to escape from u201CAmericau201D
defined as Greater New England. A couple million monographs on
slavery notwithstanding, it remains true that Southern secession
was precisely a struggle to avoid Americanization in the
sense just noted. The resistance put forth by those who settled
Utah might also be seen in this light, even if that story began
in Greater New England.
Everett Hale's story, The
Man Without a Country, written to buck up Northern morale
during the Yankees' war to control the future, Hale's narrator
says he has recorded the life of Philip Nolan, who renounced the
United States, u201Cas a warning to the young Nolans and Vallandighams
and Tatnals of to-day of what it is to throw away a country.u201D
forty years later, the warning, whatever slight merits it may
have once had, is addressed to the wrong people. Instead, someone
needs to warn the US ruling elite of u201Cwhat it is to throw away
a country.u201D I grant they are not likely to listen. After all,
they can do what they are doing, and therefore, by Yankee
(= u201CAmericanu201D) logic, they must do it.
HERE BUT US AMERICANS
Up to this
point, I have slighted bureaucratic-institutional drives and economic
motives so as to concentrate on ideology. Now it is perhaps
time to link some things up. A brief summary might run as follows:
a number of boarding parties — postmillennialists, followers of
Auguste Comte and G. W. F. Hegel, Darwinists, pragmatists, instrumentalists,
ex-Trotskyists, and so on – got on the state's train at different
stations and at different times. Despite their fights with one
another, the key is that the train they boarded was always going
in the direction of greater state power over society.
have become very handy at manipulating themes that resonate with
sundry layers of this cumulative ideological wasteland. Right
now they are working overtime with the themes of universal republicanism
(u201Cdemocracyu201D) and world salvation via US violence. The fellow
at the top is very good at putting a theological gloss on the
If I am right
in saying that Americans have long labored under a set of mistaken
ideas, it is important to see what I have not said. I have
not claimed, for example, that Americans have had a flawed but
coherent outlook. It was not all that coherent. Americans
never bridged the blatant inner contradictions of their worldview;
instead, they insisted that, somehow, all the parts were equally
the pattern of ideas outlined here has existed and continues to
As far as
theologies go, it is not my wish to enter into such disputations.
Let the sundry millennialists sort out their differences as best
they may. I would only ask them to sunder their eschatological
concerns, as much as they can, from open-ended commitments to
messianic, state-aggrandizing, imperial missions. After a century
and a half, we could all do with a little rest.
I have not
said that all Americans have believed, at all times, the things
under discussion. Some Americans rejected the lot and were seen
as u201CunAmericansu201D or u201Canti-Americansu201D for disbelieving these fantasies.
Some nonbelievers committed the unforgivable hate crime of moving
to Europe in hopes of finding civilization. Others went into a
kind of internal exile.
or worse, all of us are — as Americans — internal to the problem;
we can no more shed our Americanness than we can teach the Prussian
King's horse to fly. Indeed, it is probably only Americans who
would care enough about American life to make judgments as harsh
as those I have quoted. We are in a position like that of E.
A. Freeman, late 19th-century pro-Saxon English historian,
in relation to the Norman Conquest. He wrote: u201CIt is owing to
the coming of William that we can not trace the history of our
native speech, that we can not raise our wail for its corruption
without borrowing largely from the store of foreign words which,
but for his coming, would never have crossed the sea. So strong
a hold have the intruders taken on our soil, that we can not tell
the tale of their coming without their help.u201D
We cannot even raise up an outcry against the twists and turns
of the u201CAmericanu201D mind without doing so partly within categories
created by New Englanders. I will not even say that this is all
bad. For all I know, there is even some merit in Walt Whitman,
although I simply cannot see it. (I mention Whitman because Neo-Cons
are currently recommending him as a prophet of u201Cdemocratic imperialismu201D
— as if there were a shortfall on those.)
Let us be
fair, too, to the actually existing New Englanders. Many of their
descendants, perhaps chastened by World War II or the dangers
of nuclear war, have given up crusading in the international sphere,
and confine their crusading to the domestic sphere, adhering,
roughly speaking, to the McGovernite wing of American politics.
Some, indeed, gave up external empire as early as 1900, as leaders
of the Anti-Imperialist League. At the same time, many of the
former enemies of the postmillennialists — Southerners included
– have taken over the crusade in foreign affairs abandoned
by (at least some) Yankees.
England: After imposing on the South and West an ideology that
sacralized the federal state, it has receded to manageable dimensions.
In some of its former realm, a Catholic majority dwells. It is
hard to say what Cotton Mather would make of that.
the modern, abstract, bureaucratic state, armed with New England
ideas and later variations on them, has gone on to greater glory,
and now threatens with extinction even the authentic local culture
of New England, which doubtless has its merits. (I shall not use
the word u201Cironyu201D now, because Professor Eric Foner has taken out
a ninety-year lease on it.) If New England ever tries making
a run for it, as was discussed there in 1815, one could only cheer
THE MISSING POLITICAL ANALYSIS
a u201Csilenceu201D and an u201Cabsenceu201D haunting current treatment of these
questions: what is missing is any realistic analysis of states.
Anyone with the wit to distinguish the US central state
from u201CAmerica,u201D even once or twice a year, could work out that
what may be in the interest of the state rulers is not necessarily
in the interest of actually existing Americans, considered separately
from the rulers. Of course the press corps, the universities,
and many other sectors of American society now display a credulous
faith in the state as their defender and, indeed, the source of
all things good.
seem to have little faith in their own powers and have, once again,
characteristically confounded means and ends, carts and horses.
What is needed is a hardheaded treatment of the state as such,
of the kind that Murray Rothbard produced. On his analysis, the state is
a profoundly antisocial institution whose personnel and allies
gain by encroaching on the property and freedom of those whom
they allegedly u201Cserve.u201D
On the face
of it, this might seem a good starting point for dealing with
the world of political conflict, as against fairy-tales in which
one Good State stands exempt from the faults of all other states.
Starting there, it might be possible to see how a politicized
notion of the Kingdom of God on Earth might have helped undermine
our freedoms, or how republicanism operated, generally, as a Trojan
Horse within the walls of 19th-century liberalism,
yielding nationalism and, much later, national socialism.
is concerned, Americans were always closer to Rousseau than they
admitted — including, or perhaps especially, the sainted Federalists;
indeed, it may only have been the Federalists' open insistence
that they were an elite who should preside over the utopian
project that has given them the appearance of having been conservative.
This mistaken identity owes much to our latter-day populist posturing
about the common man.
shifted into democracy, the whole problem of the inner unity of
u201Cdemocracyu201D and u201Ctotalitarianismu201D takes the stage. This is said
to be the inexorable nature of the u201Cmodern,u201D but if so, it may
not quite mean what the luminous Ralf Dahrendorf thinks it does.
Quite a few u201Cclassical liberals,u201D ready to re-enact the original
late 19th century sellout of liberalism, believe that
things are just fine as they are now. Ford's in his flivver and
u201Cdemocracies never attack other democracies.u201D
item is hardly our problem today. Our problem is the current
popularity of Rousseau's plan of u201Cforcing people to be freeu201D
— a notion that dovetails nicely with the old expansionist axiom
of American republicanism, just when pretended classical liberals
and other Neo-Cons have begun to speak of u201Cimposing spontaneous
orderu201D! The British role in Inja is mooted, though some might
think the British role in Ireland and South Africa is more to
It is held
to be the duty of Americans to take up this and related burdens.
Cold War liberals used to dilate learnedly about the petty-bourgeois
u201Cstatus resentmentu201D and agrarian u201Cnostalgiau201D of those who failed
to sign on for such crusades. Neo-Cons lecture the refuseniks
on their u201Calienation.u201D In their view, the US state-revolutionary
train has left the station bound for the Future, and these craven
u201Cisolationistsu201D have willfully thrown away their boarding passes.
from global imperial empire crusading in the name of abstract
freedom — imagine that!
some serious flaws in the American outlook. Over time, unfortunate
habits of thought have grown up among us, which ambitious men
can fiddle – in the service of ends for which we never knowingly
signed up. It is up to us, as Americans, to think our way out
of the abyss before which we currently stand.
cannot proceed without an American critique of a set of
mistakes and phantasms said, by our overlords, to
be the only possible American ideas available. The hour is late.
If we cannot look in the historical mirror and see what needs
to be changed, we shall find ourselves saying, repeatedly, with
Lincoln, u201CAnd the war came.u201D
will go on declaring the u201Clawu201D west, east, north, and south of
the Pecos, re-founding the Union, and re-fighting the u201CCivil Waru201D
until the end of time, or until the whole thing falls apart, whichever
comes first. It is a consummation devoutly to be avoided.
Amaury deRiencourt, The Coming Caesars (New York: Coward-McMann,
Ernest Lee Tuveson, Redeemer
Nation: The Idea of America's Millennial Role (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1980 ).
Murray N. Rothbard, u201COrigins
of the Welfare State in America,u201D Journal of Libertarian
Studies, 12, 2 (Fall 1996), p. 199. For maps showing the
Yankee Belt, or u201CGreater New England,u201D see Kevin Phillips, The
Cousins' Wars: Religion, Politics, and the Triumph of Anglo-America
(New York: Basic Books, 1999), pp. 413, 416.
William G. McLoughlin, u201CPietism and the American Character,u201D
American Quarterly, 17, 2 (Summer 1965), p. 173, note.
McLoughlin gives a number of left-liberal examples of supposed
American u201Chypocrisyu201D which seem to me entirely off the mark,
but his general point is well taken.
Cf. James H. Moorhead, "Between Progress and Apocalypse:
A Reassessment of Millennialism in American Religious Thought,
1800-1880," Journal of American History, 71, 3 (Dec.
1984), pp. 531-533.
Williams, pp. 157-162, and J. G. A. Pocock, The
Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic
Republican Tradition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1975), pp. 391-396, 510-513
See Robert H. Wiebe, The
Opening of American Society: From the Adoption of the Constitution
to the Eve of Disunion (New York: Vintage Books, 1985).
u201CThe Crisis in Europe II: Intervention of the United States,u201D
United States Democratic Review, 30  (June 1852),
John Lukacs, A History of the Cold War (Garden City,
N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1961), p. 187.
Major L. Wilson, Space,
Time and Freedom: The Quest for Nationality and the Irrepressible
Conflict, 1815–1861 (Westport, CN: Greenwood Press,
1974), pp. 67-70.
Williams, pp. 250-255 and 297-300.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., u201CThe Causes of the Civil War: A
Note on Historical Sentimentalism,u201D Partisan Review,
XVI (October 1949), pp. 969-981.
Quoted in Moorhead, p. 532.
Otto Scott, The
Secret Six: John Brown and the Abolitionist Movement
(Murphys, CA: Uncommon Books, 1979), pp. 295-296
Francis B. Simkins, u201CTolerating the South's Past,u201D Journal
of Southern History, 21, 1 (February 1955), p. 3.
C. B. Robson, u201CFrancis Lieber's Theories of Society, Government,
and Liberty,u201D Journal of Politics, 4, 2 (May 1942), p.
Robert Penn Warren, The
Legacy of the Civil War: Meditations on the Centennial
(New York: Vintage Books, 1961), pp. 59-66.
Harold Bloom, The
American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation
(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992).
Louis Menand, The
Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America (New
York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2001), p. 143.
This switch is traced in Paul C. Nagel, One
Nation Indivisible: The Union in American Thought, 1776–1861
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1964).
Lawton, p. 66.
Williams, p. 285.
See William Earl Weeks, John
Quincy Adams and American Global Empire (Lexington:
University Press of Kentucky, 1992), and Ernest N. Paolino,
Foundations of the American Empire: William Henry Seward and
U.S. Foreign Policy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University
Williams, p. 365 (italics in original).
George W. Pierson, u201Cu2018A Restless Temper,'u201D American Historical
Review, 69, 4 (July 1964), p. 985.
Lawton, p. 62–65.
De Riencourt, p. 277.
Lukacs, History of the Cold War, p. 189.
Merle Curti, u201CHuman Nature in American Thought: Retreat from
Reason in the Age of Science,u201D Political Science Quarterly,
68, 4 (December 1953), p. 500 (my emphasis).
Neal Wood, u201CTabula Rasa, Social Environmentalism, and
the u2018English Paradigm,'u201D Journal of the History of Ideas,
53, 4 (October-December 1992), pp. 647-668.
See Paul Edward Gottfried, After
Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999).
This parallels the American reception of the gloomy determinism
of Sigmund Freud; in American hands, Freudianism naturally licensed
an optimistic, short-sighted, and orgiastic cult of self-fulfillment
centered in California.
Lawton, p. 31 (my emphasis).
Lukacs, Decline and Rise of Europe, p. 268.
Quoted in Russell Weigley, The
American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy
and Policy (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977),
De Riencourt, p. 277.
See William H. Epstein, u201CCounter-Intelligence: Cold War Criticism
and Eighteenth-Century Studies,u201D ELH, 57, 1 (Spring 1990),
Howard J. Wiarda, Corporatism
and Comparative Politics: The Other Greatu201CIsmu201D (London:
M. E. Sharpe, 1997), pp. 128-151.
Curti, p. 505.
Edmund Wilson, Patriotic
Gore: The Literature of the American Civil War (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1962), p. xxviii.
Robert Nisbet, u201CForeign Policy and the American Mind,u201D Studies
in History and Philosophy #7 (Menlo Park, CA: Institute
for Humane Studies, 1978 ), p. 14.
On the theme of imposed u201Copenness,u201D see Andrew J. Bacevich,
Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), passim.
Anderson, pp. 192, 210, 225, and 218-219.
M. E. Bradford, u201CThe Lincoln Legacy: A Long View,u201D in Remembering
Who We Are: Observations of a Southern Conservative
(Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985), p. 143.
Anderson, p. 227.
Randolph Bourne, u201CTwilight of the Idols,u201D Untimely Papers
(New York: B. W. Huebsch, 1919), pp. 123, 130-131
Cf. Robert Higgs, u201CMilitary Precision versus Moral Precision,u201D
Albert Jay Nock, Cogitations from Albert Jay Nock (Irvington-on-Hudson,
NY: Nockian Society, 1985), p. 54.
Lawton, pp. 68-69.
Cf. A. J. Conyers, The
Long Truce: How Toleration Made the World Safe for Power and
Profit (Dallas: Spence Publishing Company, 2001), pp.
71-72. Professor Conyers is, of course, not responsible for
my application of his ideas here.
Voegelin, p. 173 (my italics).
E. A. Freeman, quoted in Jean Roemer, Origins of the English
People and of the English Language (New York: D. Appleton,
1888), p. 455.
Ralf Dahrendorf, Society
and Democracy in Germany (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books,
1969), esp. 365-396; and see Hans-Herman Hoppe, Democracy:
The God That Failed (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction
There will some economies in the business, however; u201CMarching
Through Georgiau201D can be re-written slightly to accommodate some
future campaign in former Soviet Georgia.