December 09, 2004

The Anglo/American Pocket Breakout

by Demosophist

Samuel Beer, one of our top echelon of political sociologists, talks about the "Whig Rebellion," but I'm not sure whether that term wasn't coined by him. When I use it with most Brits I get a blank stare. That could be a deficiency of their education system. Anyway he considers the American Revolution a continuation of this Whig Rebellion..., and the US as the ideological offspring of the "Scottish Enlightenment." No doubt the foundations of that enlightenment have to do with English history and tradition, even though it was frequently arrayed in opposition.

At one time I was rather taken with reading up on Oliver Protector, and that whole era of English history that dovetails into the Whig Rebellion, but found Antonia Fraser's book so tedious that I'd almost rather cut my throat than read it. Why didn't someone slap her? Anyway, what attracted me about that period was the juxtaposition of the concepts of Puritanism and Providence, and the fact that Protestantism became militantly revolutionary for a time. There was an interesting group of radicals around during that period called the Fifth Monarchists, who were the seventeenth century forerunners of the Phalange, except that they were Protestant rather than Papist. Unlike the rest of the Calvinists, they weren't content to wait until things got settled in Heaven. They wanted to perfect mankind NOW. Had they taken over Calvinism, it would have developed into a warrior cult.

Well, that's the essence of my theory. Cromwell's defeat changed the character of Calvinism, from a religion that was somewhat focused directly on God's Plan for this world, into one that saw the things of this world as merely a "sign" of what could be expected in the next. This shift from actual to potential, and from temporal to eternal, was profound, and it's essentially what makes the Calvinists different from the Islamists (apart from the obvious doctrinal differences between Christians and Muslims). It's why Osama's silly "crusades" talk misses the point, and why Islam has been so "backward." That military defeat is when Calvinism was "defanged." There is no small irony contained in the fact that ignoring this world tended to have the greatest impact on it, and a focus on the next world tended to order the things of this world to the greatest effect.

Which brings me to America, or the United States of America if you happen to see things from a continental perspective. According to a friend of mine (whose name happens to be Lavine) the culture of the United States of American is composed of three cultural elements: The dominant ones are the two twins: the Enlightenment and the Reformation. We are an essentially Lockean culture, in that individual sovereignty is more than merely one of many strains of thought or allegiance, but the primary allegiance. In addition, we're puritanical in the classic sense, borrowing some of our militancy from Oliver Protector... So when we go to war it's always against the Devil... and woe unto any President or statesman who is imprudent enough to allow the Devil to escape his just deserts. Bush II understands this principle, which is why he doesn't commune with his father, and why Al Qaeda is doomed (even though the Left says we're not paying sufficient attention to those rascals).

But, not to wander too far off topic, the third element of America's culture is recessive rather than dominant. It was manifested in the American version of the Counter-enlightenment, through people like Emerson, Thoreau and Margaret Fuller (i.e. Transcendentalism). And although Michael Moore and even Noam Chomsky derive part of their legitimacy from this genuine strain of Americanism, they don't do so sensibly. For if they did, they'd be far more cognizant of principle, and far less inclined to lie "for the cause." In fact, it was probably Thoreau himself who coined the phrase "a fish in the milk," which is an agrarian literary reference if there ever was one.

People like Pete Hamel, and few others in the genuine tradition of Emerson and Fuller, tend to see American "conservatism" as recessive, and therefore temporary... but he at least sees it as necessary (which it is). I guess what he doesn't quite grasp with both claws is the notion that we're not really "conservative," so much as anchored in Puritanism and Lockean liberalism (or whigism). For awhile, until the Civil War, we even had a political party called the Whigs... but they couldn't cope with the challenge of slavery. And that brings us very close to the main point of the ramble...

The Democrats of the 19th century were even worse than their cousins, the Whigs, having established the Copperhead movement in opposition to Lincoln. But unlike the Whigs they had no close ideological rival willing to lay down their wishful thinking in order to "get it right." So they weren't displaced as were the Whigs. They survived, but as I recall (and I could be slightly off so feel free to check) from the Civil War until the election of FDR there were only two Democrat Presidents (although one was elected twice), and they were also the minority in Congress for most of that period. So they paid a heavy price for being on the "wrong side of history," even though they didn't exit the stage with the Whigs.

Which brings me very close to the point. I think Totalitarianism is the challenge of the 20th and 21st centuries, as slavery was the challenge of the 19th. Like slavery it is a problem that has been with us from the very inception of civilization, and may even represent a kind of civilizational mitochondria. And the struggle against it will transform us, because we've been so intimate with it... and because its inherent evil and symbiotic character is now almost completely unmasked.

The struggle against totalitarianism has transformed the United States of America from a kind of backwater in the 1900s into a superpower after WWII, and finally into the sole superpower. Every branch of my family has been involved, and every one of them has sacrificed their sons and daughters The world is completely mistaken, however, to conclude that this is about "empire." It's far more elemental than that.

Although we've taken the lead it'll soon be the world's turn. As it has transformed us it will ultimately transform the world, and in the same direction. Though "the world" is far closer in character and temperament to the recessive element of American culture, it is bound far closer to us than it realizes When the mood shifts from detractor to partner, it will happen rather quickly... and will be largely and shockingly unexpected by the "powers that be." They think they've carved out quite a little haven behind the protective walls of pure anti-Americanism... not really having appreciated what America is, and what we're about.

I just heard Robert Kaplan speak at AEI recently, and he made observed that what surprised him the most about the Middle East in recent months is the fact that the US can conduct some genuinely brutal actions in Fallujah and other parts of the Sunni triangle, and there's really very little protest from the "Arab street." One would think that if the characterizations of America as the cause of all evil on the planet had as much legitimacy as some would have us think, the "common Arab" just wouldn't stand for a lot of what we've done. (They weren't even that riled by the Abu Ghraib mantra, in spite of all the hype.) So I suspect they're plumb fed up with their tyrants and autocrats, and aren't really all that keen to see a new crop ascend to power dressed in religious robes. They may have about had their fill of that.

About the oil. I guess we all need that, don't we? But who, besides America, protects the Straits of Malacca and protects the shipping lanes that supply a good share of the world's oil free from terrorist pirates? Those lanes are nowhere near the Middle East. We foot the bill for that protective function, and we pretty much do that alone, even though most of the peoples of far flung countries that tend to hate us are benefited. If you don't think this is a critical function perhaps we could stand down for a brief period... just long enough to see what happens. Maybe the UN will step into the breach? :-^

The truth is that if one looks at history counterfactually, the British Empire left the world a lot better off than where they found it... and also better off than where it would have been absent the Empire. Even now, long after the demise of that empire the strongest correlate of emerging democracy and the rule of law is whether a particular nation was ever a British colony. So, Iraq really looks better on that score than one might think, for although it was only a protectorate, that's close enough.

Or it would be close enough, in a mostly sane world. But what we have in the stead of that world are slaughterhouses whose closest ancestors are Dachau and the Gulag Archipelago. And to make matters worse, the heirs of the forebears of the recessive component of American culture are wont to refer to these manifestations of a three-thousand-year-old-evil as "freedom fighters," equivalent to the minutemen who would literally have wretched their precious stomach contents onto the soil of Valley Forge had they seen it.

We are not at the beginning of something, here... but at the beginning of the end. What emerges must be a kind of political institution that transcends ethnically established "nations" by as far as those nations transcended tribes. There is a moral imperative so compelling that the willingness to strap on a bomb in a futile attempt to subvert destiny will seem positively anemic and cowardly.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia and Anticipatory Retaliation)

By Demosophist at 05:46 PM | Comments |