February 16, 2016
A READER writes:
This study by Catholic scholar Dr. John Rao is hands-down the best historical and philosophical explanation as to why America seemingly cannot be a normal nation and why Americans seemingly cannot be or, more appropriately, are not allowed to be a normal people.
As the author demonstrates, the Americanist Religion has both a left-wing and a right-wing, a liebral and a conservative (or ‘cuck$ervative,’ as we now so affectionately know it) version of its “Exceptionalism” (even amongst the putative ‘far-Right’) and as we see in reality, are merely the left and right wings of the same bird — the Americanist Vulture — the replacement for the American Eagle.
Generations of European observers, beginning with Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America, have remarked upon the effectiveness with which American society, motivated by its Anglo-Saxon spirit, has quietly repressed the emergence of sharp differences of opinion, and channeled its population’s efforts into limited, peaceful, but indiscriminately vulgar material goals. Their commentaries have been supported by numerous American writers who have felt the obligation to “drop out” of this society in order to live as full human beings. I am speaking here of men of the Right, and not of liberals, whose “anti-Americanism” is itself a form of the same Americanist mentality. One is reminded, for example, of T.S. Eliot’s assertion that the thinking American often sought to “lose himself” somewhere outside the national mainstream, in places like New York City, in order to maintain at least the illusion of intellectual and spiritual survival.
One can point to H.L. Mencken’s satirical essay, On Being An American, wherein he argues that there are only two grounds for an intelligent man to remain in the United States: either as a means of swindling an easy living, or to enjoy some cheap laughs at the expense of the vulgarity around him. The writings of many such men betray a common bitter theme. America has made the “thoughtful”, the “spiritual”, the “committed” appear to be the province of either the “insane” or the “treasonous”. It has required no secret police in order to achieve this goal. The work has been done gently and naturally, due to the character of an Anglo-Saxon influenced “soul” gone wild.
I believe that these critics have been correct in their assessment. The American obsession with avoiding controversy has ended by punishing the serious man. This is a regrettable phenomenon, since a human being—and a patriot—is not merely a prosperity machine, but also a thinker, a culture builder, and a dreamer of dreams. He needs to pay his respect, both alone and as part of a community, to higher things. As Isaiah says, “without a vision, the people perish”. A nation that allows little or no public scope for such important demands of the human personality is a defective “cradle” indeed. Still, the Anglo-Saxon desire for stability retains some insight into the importance of “home”, its needs, and the value of harmony therein. It sees that something resembling a “nation” is vital enough to men to require sacrifices to maintain it. It appears to admit the country as a structure distinct from the individual and the obvious framework for his development. The baggage that it gives to its citizens may be faulty and inadequate, but it does, at least, provide something onto which they can latch in order to work towards certain legitimate goals in life
But America grew up under a second and more destructive influence. It developed underneath the tutelage of Puritan Protestantism. This was a teacher that understood so little about human nature that it inevitably poisoned everything that came into contact with it. Even when it tried to fill the void left by the abandonment of higher national purposes, it did so by crushing entirely the idea of the nation. It thus threatened the American with the prospect of having no “home” to love at all.
What lies at the basis of Puritanism? An emphasis upon the total depravity of man after Original Sin. How can man be saved according to its precepts? Only by an individual act of faith in God’s willingness to accept an intrinsically evil monster to live with Him eternally. Nothing that a man might do, good or bad, can, according to the Puritan dogma, affect the outcome of his personal saga.
The results of such an outlook are manifold. A dichotomy between the all-perfect God and totally wicked individuals allows no scope for the work of society in the divine plan. All men are like atoms in the face of their God, fundamentally alone in their approach to Him. “Atomism” is, perhaps, the most basic Puritan by-product. The presumption of communities and authorities like the Church, which claimed to lead men to God, became intolerable. Popes and bishops, seen in this light, must inevitably corrupt whatever functions they perform in this wicked world, and, hence, cannot be part of the divine plan. A “Church”, insofar as one must exist to perform symbolic functions and prayer meetings, thus becomes merely the instrument of a “democratic” congregation of atomistic believers.
Man’s efforts to transform the universe into a “mirror of God” become equally useless. Music, art, architecture, food and dress and everything else attempting to elaborate the beauties of a corrupted cosmos become an abomination. Europe as a whole, whose cities had blossomed under Catholic auspices and hosted innumerable varieties of human endeavor, becomes hopelessly decadent. Many Puritans drew the conclusion that the only way in which a God-fearing Christian might survive would be by fleeing as far from Babylon as possible, to the other side of the ocean, to a New World. Here, paradoxically, he could create a place of safety, a New Jerusalem, a City on a Hill living outside of and above the vain attempt to divinize the universe.
Puritan Protestants did not necessarily wish to change the concept of “home”, “nation”, and “patriotism”. They, too, were English, and, hence, subject to the same conservatism tugging at the British “soul”. Moreover, unconscious Catholic habits and the pressure exerted by a thousand years of Catholic social life often prevented them from putting the full destructive force of their own ideas into operation. Nevertheless, the logic of Puritan Protestantism propelled it towards startling alterations in the patriotic ideal in America. It was destined to reach this end through its encouragement of secularization.
Secularization was promoted by Puritan Protestantism in three ways. One was by having supported tenets so inhuman as to drive men away from God in horror. A second was through establishing such a stark dichotomy between God and man as to throw into doubt the rationality of Christ’s whole mission, to deny the reality of the Incarnation and to retire the divine beyond man’s reach. The last was by so disdaining the world and ridiculing the possibility of its transformation as to liberate nature entirely from God’s direction. Even though Puritans desired none of these consequences, the logic of Puritanism ensured their success. Their progress was often hidden from public awareness, partly because the Anglo-Saxon conservative sense led those who had lost their faith to continue to refer to “God” and Christian terminology in discussing their non-Christian ideas, and partly because such men no longer even sensed the significance of their own apostasy.
A secularized man cannot completely shed the influences that formed him. The “secular Puritan” is still puritanical in his way of dealing with the world. This is obvious in three aspects of his outlook, all of which have reached their logical conclusions by our time.
One can begin by noting that although he no longer believes in God in an orthodox sense, the secular Puritan continues to understand men to be atoms, individuals in whose life society plays no true role. Just as a man was expected to make a private act of faith in God, he is now meant to make a private act of faith in his own “goals”, independently of his fellow creatures. Just as he once privately interpreted the Scriptures, he now must be “self-reliant” in his guidance of his own life. And just as the Church, with its panoply of authorities, was seen to be an unwarranted intruder in the relationship of the individual and God, all secular institutions are now condemned from the same standpoint. The state, the family, authoritative traditions in general and one’s pet enemy organization in particular, are all held to be guilty of a form of breaking and entering. Evil in and of themselves, they explain the persistence of wickedness on this planet and can only be tolerated if they exercise their functions subject to the free acceptance of individuals and through democratic structures analogous to those of the Puritan congregations. The present assault upon every aspect of authority, particularly visible since the 1960’s, is directly related to this attitude and cannot be understood without it. Secularized Puritanism and authority are mortal enemies.
Secondly, Puritanism can still be noted in the secularized American’s discomfort with efforts to transform the world into a “mirror of God”. This discomfort appears in two forms, superficially contradictory but firmly related at their root. Many Americans continue to anathematize “high culture”. They characterize everything from architecture and music to cooking and clothing as silly, wasteful, and effeminate, the moment that it rises above the mediocre. Other Americans feel the need to escape the blandness around them. They cannot, however, bring themselves to flee from it by cultivating truly serious culture. This would so tie them into the Greco-Roman and Catholic tradition as to frighten them back into their mediocrity. Instead, they develop a new type of “high culture” based upon the mad, individualistic ravings of their tortured puritanical souls. Their “cultural” creations are then guiltily justified by them with reference to deep biological or psychological needs.
The one group of secularized Puritans adores the Big Mac as the height of human achievement; the other, a homosexual’s multi-million dollar sculpture of a broken toothpick. In short, the Puritan, after his break with faith as during its full fervor, is unable to grasp the principle of restoring all things in Christ. He manifests his inability in either philistinism or perversion. If he does discover the true heritage of the West, he converts to Catholicism or plays carelessly with it like an adolescent plays haphazardly with things before which he should stand in awe.
We are now at the crux of the problem. If America, even in the mind of the secularized Puritan, is the City on a Hill, it would seem to mean that “home” is something worth protecting. But the “nation”, understood in a traditional sense, must itself be a stumbling block to such a mentality. It is a hindrance because it, too, demands respect for authority, whether in the form of institutions or in that of customs and traditions. The true patriot must put brakes upon his “self-reliance” and his atomistic freedom for the good of the country. He is obliged to recognize his inability to provide for himself and his family, to communicate sensibly with a sizeable community and to blossom as a personality outside of his cradle. He is required to admit that society is good or, rather, that societies of all kinds are good, since no one can love his nation and hate the things that make it great. No one can love France, recognizing that the French nation gives him a language, people who understand his way of life, soil on which to be nourished, and a place to lay his head, without at least respecting those forces which contributed to creating it: the Roman Church, the universities, the communal institutions of the city of Paris, and a thousand other entities besides. The true patriot must, in the last analysis, be prepared to give his life to maintain his nation just as he must be prepared to give his life in the defense of his own body. But if a secularized Puritanism is to triumph, the patriot, patriotism, and all the baggage accompanying the idea of the nation must disappear. “Home” demands too much, it is too authoritarian, too reminiscent of the Church’s vain effort to place itself between God and the individual. Yet how could one maintain love for America without allowing it to become love of nation in its unacceptable sense? [emphases added]
Posted by Laura Wood in Uncategorized