Waking Up From the American Dream
The Culture, the Creed, & the Dream
Part 2 of 5
One of the more tragic figures of the recent past was Samuel Huntington, perhaps the most significant political scientist this country produced in the last century. Anyone who has gone to graduate school will study his books in several courses simultaneously, on subjects as diverse as democratization in Latin America to civil-military relations.
And yet, he’ll be remembered in the media, insofar as he will be remembered at all, for his analysis of the so-called Clash of Civilizations, a challenge to the End of History. He’ll also be outright demonized for his final book, Who Are We?: The Challenges to America’s National Identity, which attempted to answer the elusive question of what constitutes the American identity.
Huntington identified an American Creed as central to what defined the country. However, the American culture was also present, and while it contributed to the development of the Creed, it was distinct from it. The American Creed of limited government, suspicion of royal authority, and all the rest of the classical liberal boilerplate we are used to was identified with the dissenting Protestantism brought to the United States by English settlers. However, Huntington stated that while the American Creed and the American identity is elastic, it is not infinitely so: “America cannot become the world and still be America.”
The book was reviewed in a few places, but it made no real impact on the culture. The only politician of any note who actually talked about it was Tom Tancredo. He named his radio show after it and gave a few speeches about it, of course peppered with the usual denials that this had anything to do with race. The Southern Poverty Law Center responded by calling his speeches White Nationalist screeds which claimed only White Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture was American.
On the Left there was outright hatred. When Huntington, the most distinguished scholar of his generation, a dean of Harvard school of government and New Deal liberal, came to speak at a school in Texas, he was protested by Hispanics calling him a racist and a Nazi. He died not long afterward. This should serve as a warning about relying on “credentials” to generate a rational response.
What may be surprising to some is that the American Right called him un-American – because he was not optimistic enough. The Claremont Institute declared he didn’t show enough respect for “that optimism [which] sets us apart from much of the world, fuels our entrepreneurial spirit, encourages immigrants seeking a better life, and inspires us to encourage democracy around the globe.” It called for faith.
Both the American Right and the American Left believe in the American Creed, at least rhetorically. But both also dismiss that there actually is anything that can be called a distinct American culture. Indeed, even while the American Right relies on the defense of American culture to give it its emotional impetus, it either cannot define it or refuses to acknowledge that it could possibly exclude anyone else on earth. If this seems odd, simply recall how the overwhelmingly white American conservative movement furiously attacks anyone who dares broach the subject of white identity – and furthermore, habitually attacks the Left as being white supremacist and racist.
Instead of the Culture, we have the American Creed. And once the Creed becomes a civic religion, we have the American Dream – the prosperity gospel of a nation. The American Dream of material prosperity is linked to the idea of constitutionalism, limited government, freedom, and “liberty.” This Dream is so powerful that the strongest right-leaning critique of the existing system comes from the libertarians, who believe that the United States of America doesn’t talk enough about material prosperity and limited government.
A popular Internet film from libertarians is actually entitled The American Dream. It centers on the Rothschilds, the Federal Reserve, the inflation tax, and the other themes familiar to the libertarian Right, especially those that flirt with critiques of Jewish power. It’s well-made, funny, and its multiple postings combined boast well over three million views. But of course, the premise is that a stupid, ignorant, weak, blue-eyed white guy must be educated and informed by a charismatic and masculine black guy.
Libertarians, the rising force in the American Right, are in some ways even worse than the Beltway Right that exists today. While mainstream conservatism and even neoconservatism depends on a kind of perverted reading of American nationhood, libertarianism denies it altogether. The genocide of the Indians, slavery, the racist Drug War, and southern segregation are all part of the tapestry of evil woven by statism. Whereas much of American libertarianism may have been grounded in implicit whiteness, and movement is still implicitly white, it is gradually growing more explicitly anti-white than even the kind of conservatism advocated by The Weekly Standard.
Thus, throughout the entire spectrum of American political thought, there is fundamental agreement about the desirability of the American Dream of material prosperity and classical liberalism. To be sure, Left and Right have two slightly different ways of looking at it.
The Left sneers at it as hypocrisy, but doesn’t ultimately question the end game. Ultimately, America is about making sure that everyone gets to be equally prosperous and define their own existence from the comfort of their Tumblr account. The more moderate Left might say that America’s glory is that it pronounced a creed of equality for all. We always make progress (as we take power away from the hated white males is left unsaid) but “there is always more to be done.” America is defined by the progression towards equality.
The Right responds with an ever more frantic attachment to the idea of freedom, liberty, and limited government, coupled with an insistence on equal opportunity rather than equality of outcome. The conservatives will say America already is free, the libertarians will say it should be free, but is bound by statism. But both will say the ideal is a proposition nation where every individual can try to create as much prosperity as possible. America is defined by the progression towards ever greater economic growth.
These ideas are symbiotic and complementary. Both the American Left and Right contribute arguments towards breaking apart the historic American nation, either as an obstacle to equality or an obstacle to growth. Both urge the replacement of the actually existing nation and culture in pursuit of an abstract ideal. And both, ultimately, define the ideal in terms of liberation from the old – either from regressive social norms or state limitations on economic activity. America may have been, in the words of Robert Kagan, one of its neoconservative defenders, “born to die.”
In its own way, the American Dream is the most aggressively egalitarian concept in history, far more devastating in its effects than any doctrine dreamed of by Marx or Lenin. It utterly liquidates any consideration of community ties, religious obligations, or traditional ideals in favor an unrestrained individualism grounded in absolute equality. This ideological egalitarianism, paradoxically, enables increasing economic inequality and entrenchment of the financial system. We are told we are all created equal – which leads to the unrestrained reign of wealth, unhindered by community responsibility, ethnic solidarity, or even noblesse oblige.
The doctrine of equality of race, gender, culture, and human quality enables the permanent entrenchment of a power structure elite that denies its own elitism. We have a ruling class that is secure precisely because it denies any hierarchical basis to its lordship. Its power is unchallenged because it denies it has power. It rules because it flatters its serfs that they rule themselves – in fact, telling them that no one rules them at all. And unlike the high cultures of the past, the cultural products produced by our elite are far more degenerate, disgusting, and ugly than that which exists among working communities.
Thus, America’s transformation into a culture that would have disgusted the patriots of the past is not a departure from the American ideal. In many ways, it is a fulfillment of that ideal. While the pendulum of political power may occasionally swing back and forth from the Republicans to the Democrats, the core ideal of wealth acquisition through the unlimited pursuit of freedom, liberty, and the abolition of privilege is never challenged at a fundamental level.
What happened to the American Dream? In the words of The Comedian in Watchmen, “It came true. You’re looking at it.”
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