Individualism and America
Posted by Guessedworker on Friday, February 1, 2013 at 08:33 PM
Leon Haller has asked a question on Graham’s latest thread which perfectly expresses the plaint of the mournful right-liberal white American. He asks: why can’t we have again what we once had: political orders which secure individual rights to life, liberty and property, but recognize that the liberal order must be racially bounded?
Meanwhile, James has posed the question of America’s historical meaning - or, at least, Iowa’s. But I thought I would venture elsewhere to throw a light on Leon’s question, and raise the possibility (going on probability) of differentials in the populations of North America and Europe, both in the sense of deep, formative cultural influence and trait selection. For it seems to me that it might not be so easy to speak of America and Americans in terms of Europe and Europeans. It is akin to a question which, as a descendent of groups who, almost in their entirety, left their own soil along the north German sea coast and sailed for the east coast of Britain, I have often pondered: what does a mass migration mean for the ones who undertake and survive it, and how does such an absolute human statement colour the generations which follow? In the English and lowland Scottish case, of course, the question is unanswerable. Almost all the parent Germanic populations of the north German coast migrated as their lands became uninhabitable, and once in Britain interbred with the native British. But in the case of white America we can get closer to some sort of conclusion.
The first peopling of the New World drew the full measure of the personal and collective resources of the English Dissenters who gave themselves to it. As an act of religious nonconformism it was staggering in its commitment. As an act of the human spirit it was one of luminous beauty and courage. By my reading - a psychological reading - the heart of white American exceptionalism in the European context, usually considered to be the political goods of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, still lies there, inviolate in its purity.
Later emigrants embarked for the New World with a different (but related) kind of faith – in opportunity, in (usually materialistic) personal realization, and reinvention. Democratised to all Christian faiths and none, and to all the British, then all Europeans, its congregation of frontiersmen and small farmers was swelled by every variety of tradesman, by teachers, soldiers, and the builders of communities, businesses, and government, all believing in the power of an undiscovered landscape to bestow upon them a life unbounded not only in space but in inner space ... a New World order of the self.
But if this America is the inevitable product of nonconformism and individualism, and everything in the narrow space between, still there is an American shadowland, an America of ceasura. To be precise, the psychological positive of the American individual, self-reliant, self-confident and optimistic, visionary and energised, resilient, courageous and opportunistic, has the relationship of obligate symbiosis to the negative of self-alienation. Indeed, it is intellectually negligent to take the commonly flaunted goods of individualism, blindingly, explosively brilliant as they are, without standing on the rim of the caldera and wondering what was there before the fireworks.
What was there before was “being English” and, after that, the sum of British and then European characterfulness. Ancestry and rootedness, familiarity and belonging, that quiet finding of self in the faces of the people; national feeling invested in the person of the monarch, in the place of the sea in the imagination, perhaps, or the sacredness of landscape; the encrustments of history, its times of peril and deliverance, its long, hard passages to freedom … all this and a thousand memories, a hundred social and behavioural idiosyncracies too subtle to vocalise, and a score of others not ... all this was dispensed with forever and without equivocation, and it was no small loss. The new American was ripped by his own hand from Europa’s womb, and that event has never ceased to reverberate beneath his self-proclaimed individualism.
From this perspective one can readily propose as a psychological history of white America not merely the history of American individualism with its endless material progress and universal ambition, but the history of a constant will to overcome the self-alienation and to return to blood. The anti-bellum south, with its reverence for the soil and for what it knew as tradition, was the prime example. But any Englishman will recognise in the eponymous American tourist this reaching for antiquity as the place where something authentic, something belonging to him too, is to be seen and touched and known, however fleetingly.
At the same time, of course, the other American imperative, through the offices of its politics, its corporate activity, and its cultural exports, engages with Europe wholly on its own terms, and without any tolerance at all for its own antithesis in Nature. There is a frightening zeal in its reforming mentality, as though vandalism could be a mission. The irony of it all is that the individualisation of Europeans represents the most grotesque process of homogenisation.
So, to recap ...
It is held by psychometrists that migration is a filter for intelligence, and generally accounts for about a standard deviation of IQ. My thesis, obviously, is that from the very beginning certain qualitatively positive and negative traits were present in Americans as conditions for and consequences of migration. I do not discount the possibility - indeed, I think it is probable - that these traits proved highly adaptive in the challenges of life in early America, and were therefore privileged for selection. On that basis, early American individualism would have had some sociobiological underpinning, at least. And while regression to the mean accounts for those early gains in IQ, and white Americans are quite as dumb, on average, as their European relatives, these early qualities have lived on even when conditions became more secure, perhaps because their selection was reinforced by the developing American cultural self-image. American individualism, then, is not simply a cultural artifact.
Taken together, it may not stretch things too far to propose that the modern American is a distinct and truly novel member of the European race, rather than a mere almalgam of all Europeans. Were that to be the case, the ongoing implications for American society are that, while white Americans exercise cultural (if not political) power, it will continue to reflect their individualism and, just visible in the shadows, their self-alienation in all its works. The implications philosophically are that the liberal Weltanshauung will continue to appeal to “individual Americans” because it appears to them as perfectly indistinguishable from the natural order. It is the philosophical absolute, whereas for Europeans it is all relative - liberalism appearing to Europeans as a more benign ideology than Nazism or communism.
White Nationalism has an extraordinarily difficult task on its hands. Its historical function is to lead white Americans towards a peoplehood that individualism does not tolerate. But white America may never be ready to contemplate setting individualism aside. To answer Leon, there is no going back to yesterday’s politics. Liberalism is a moving feast, because its object of the unfettered will does not and cannot exist in the world of men. It is a religious ideal. WNs could reflect much more profitably on individualism, as they could reflect on the subtler question of the conflictedness and self-alienation that individualism portends. Quite a lot of effort at this blog is put into commending that. It hasn’t paid off yet.