I got these ideas from Morris Berman, in his latest book A Question of Values. He, in turn got them from many other people. Morris is an interesting guy, and he now lives in Mexico, which is more compatible with his way of life. He self-published this book, courtesy of Amazon – perhaps because he could make more money this way. He now has a name and doesn’t need a publisher.
Americans pride themselves on being practical people, not given to fancy theories. But this is only a self-created illusion. They are really ruled by a basic set of ideas – like any other society. Berman lists these.
1. The belief in a ruling elite.
America’s attitude towards these guys is extremely interesting: they both hate them and love them. They hate the bad guys who take advantage of them, but love the good guys who make them more powerful, and protect them from their enemies. In reality, these are the same guys – but they absolutely refuse to see this. And they absolutely refuse to see that this is an Marxist idea (the Capitalists vs the Workers – or the idea of class conflict). American conservatives have boldly taken the ideas of Antonio Gramsci, a Marxist theorist, and made them their own – without giving him any credit, of course.
The basic idea is simple: a small group of nefarious people rule America, and they must be overthrown. The favorite whipping-boys now are the banks, who have been demonized throughout American history – beginning with Thomas Jefferson. Alexander Hamilton, on the other hand, realistically observed that a national bank would absolutely necessary to finance internal development. Americans in general believe both – but refuse to see this.
2. American Exceptionalism.
This has been a core American belief, ever since the Pilgrims thought of themselves as a City on a Hill, or God’s Chosen People. Many social groups improved on this belief, and thought of themselves as the elect of the elect – such as the Mormons – the church of my family. Recently, this position has become untenable, since Americans now insist on complete conformity – and will not tolerate any special American groups – such as the Hispanic-Americans.
This is related to another part of American culture: Americanism as a civil religion. This goes back to the American Transcendentalists, including Emerson and Thoreau. Being an American was not just important – it was everything.
3. The Unlimited Frontier.
Here again, this goes back to the founding of America – and another Founding Father, James Madison. Like the other fathers of our country, he was worried about the impact of individual greed on the stability of the Republic. The solution was obvious: a continually expanding frontier, that Americans could always take over – and exploit. The Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican War accomplished this admirably.
The occupation of the Philippines later continued this trend. And even in Iraq, one of America’s objectives was to make Iraq safe for American business. What happened instead was colonialism, which America has never been good at.
Instead we have shifted our attention to the technological frontier – which we can expand without limit – we believe. In reality, we have to compete with the rest of the world to develop this frontier – which we have not done too well.
4. Extreme individualism.
This is so common we can hardly notice it. But every political candidate, from right to left, endorses it with fervor – and Americans buy into it automatically. The only people to not buy this – lock, stock and barrel – are the liberals – who are so weak they can be disregarded.