THE PROBLEM WITH AMERICA...

Audio Version

by Colin Liddell

When America was created, concocted, or released from the Petri Dish sometime in the 18th and 19th centuries, curious types came from the Old World to peer at it and probe its inner workings. Some of them even pretended to understand it.

The French "political scientist" Alexis de Tocqueville, who visited in the 1830s, drew particular attention to America's system of "checks and balances," which he greatly admired:
“In examining the division of powers as established by the Federal Constitution, remarking on the one hand the portion of sovereignty which has been reserved to the several States, and on the other, the share of power which has been given to the Union, it is evident that the Federal legislators entertained very clear and accurate notions respecting the centralization of government. The United States form not only a republic, but a confederation; yet the national authority is more centralized there than it was in several of the absolute monarchies of Europe...” Democracy in America, Chapter VIII
The point he was actually making here, however, is a little different from the one that he is normally associated with, namely the supposed wondrous nature of America's "separation of powers" and marvelous system of "checks and balances." In fact, here De Tocquevile is emphasising that certain European states had an even greater division of powers—which was actually debilitating because it prevented them being effective. 

He continues:
...I will cite only two examples.

Thirteen supreme courts of justice existed in France, which, generally speaking, had the right of interpreting the law without appeal; and those provinces that were styled pays d'etat were authorized to refuse their assent to an impost which had been levied by the sovereign, who represented the nation.

In the Union there is but one tribunal to interpret, as there is one legislature to make, the laws; and a tax voted by the representatives of the nation is binding upon all the citizens. In these two essential points, therefore, the Union is more centralized than the French monarchy, although the Union is only an assemblage of confederate republics.

In Spain certain provinces had the right of establishing a system of custom-house duties peculiar to themselves, although that privilege belongs, by its very nature, to the national sovereignty. In America Congress alone has the right of regulating the commercial relations of the states with each other. The government of the confederation is therefore more centralized in this respect than the Kingdom of Spain. It is true that the power of the crown in France or Spain was always able to obtain by force whatever the constitution of the country denied, and that the ultimate result was consequently the same; but I am here discussing the theory of the constitution. Democracy in America, Chapter VIII
De Tocquevile believed that some division of powers was good if it didn't undermine the overall effectiveness of the state. Pre-Civil War America had, in his opinion, got the balance just about right, while pre-Revolutionary France and Spain had rather overdone it.

The English novelist Charles Dickens, who visited the "American Experiment" in the 1840s, was less interested in the mechanisms of American politics, but more struck by the sheer cant and hypocrisy generated by its political culture:
I saw in them, the wheels that move the meanest perversion of virtuous Political Machinery that the worst tools ever wrought. Despicable trickery at elections; under-handed tamperings with public officers; cowardly attacks upon opponents, with scurrilous newspapers for shields, and hired pens for daggers; shameful trucklings to mercenary knaves, whose claim to be considered, is, that every day and week they sow new crops of ruin with their venal types, which are the dragon's teeth of yore, in everything but sharpness; aidings and abettings of every bad inclination in the popular mind, and artful suppressions of all its good influences: such things as these, and in a word, Dishonest Faction in its most depraved and most unblushing form, stared out from every corner of the crowded hall. American Notes, page 83
These two views of America are interesting, but they are rather like the proverbial blind men describing the elephant by touching different parts of its anatomy. They are not wrong, but they are not holistic, and you can't really understand something without understanding its entirety. However the attempt to do just that can also lead to dangerous levels of abstraction and a loss of focus. This brings us to the real problem with America, i.e. its scale. This has always been the problem for Europeans trying to get a grip on it, and I'm sure it causes plenty of problems for the locals too.

Critiques of America be like...
But America's unwieldy size isn't the only problem. There's something else as well, something a lot more slippery. I can only describe this as a "sense of the ahistorical." 

America is not the "End of History" as Francis Fukuyama tried to postulate back in the days of total US hegemony. Instead it is more like the abnegation or denial of history or, more precisely, of historical processes. In fact, it never really got started as a true historical entity. This is why it disturbed the Frankfurt School theorists so much when they ended up in its bowels as comfortable refugees from the relatively easy-to-understand historical processes of Europe.

For philosophers like Hegel and Marx, history was a dialectic, in which one entity clashed with another, pushing the historical process along, while creating higher and higher forms, until you reached some sort of perfection. 

Other philosophers, like Spengler and Evola, saw this in more cyclical terms, with greater emphasis on the intrinsic "body clock" of particular civilisations or societies. But the key point is that in the Old World, civilizations, societies, and political entities clashed and acted on each other in deeply profound ways, while also having the potential for internal development and collapse.

Adorno: unable to cope with
America's ahistrorical nature
This is the essence of history, namely external conflict (or rivalry), along with a coherent internal process of development or decline. This creates tight feedback loops that reward improvements in human virtue, discipline, and ingenuity, and which punish luxury, a loss of discipline, ill-thought-out over-expansion, and other forms of decadence. However, these are patterns very much rooted in the Old World. 

While almost every other element of Old World civilisation (from horse-riding and musketry to Christianity and cannonballs) managed to cross the water, these mechanisms of history were largely lost on the way over.

On the Eurasian Plain, an empire that grew even a little corrupt and inefficient would soon find hungry and ambitious rivals ready to supplant it. The civilisational or political ecosystem, thus, had the means with which to cut out the dead wood and rejuvenate itself, leading to a bumpy rise in civilisational level. On the North American continent, however, this became a lot less true. The potential for corruption, weakness, inefficiency, and unchecked civilisational decline thereby greatly increased. 

The process of history itself, transplanted to the North American Continent, went through the process that the French 18th-century naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc believed made the New World's fauna smaller, weaker, and less impressive than those of the Old World.

Leclercism in action
Because the more important mechanisms of renewal could not come from abroad, due to the vast oceans that isolated it—which Britain defended—America tried to find them within itself.

This is what the 1861-65 Civil War was mainly about. Ignore all that guff about "emancipation of the slaves" or "states' rights" etc. In a meta-historical perspective, this was simply the American entity trying to find enough healthy division within itself to generate a historical fault line so as to undergo historical renewal. If it hadn't been slaves, it would have have been something else, possibly a Lilliputian dispute over which end of the egg to eat from. Alas that partly noble attempt to create true historical conditions failed.

An America made up of three or four virile competitor states would have constantly renewed and invigorated itself in a distinctly European way, both through external rivalries and a more coherent process of internal development. But rather than expressing themselves in patterns of invigorating division, the many differences in the American entity instead coagulated to play a more stifling role. 

The Civil War, in its heroism and stimulus to the American soul, showed all too briefly how things could have been, the difference essentially between Stonewall Jackson and the banality of corporate America. In an historicized America that could have potentially arisen from the victory of the South, different human types from those that came to dominate America would have risen to the fore. Different virtues and values too would have been selected for. Instead we got the America we all know and can't help but detest.

Not on my watch...
But what about the "heroism" of the the 20th century and the American Empire? Isn't there greatness and history in that? 

Superficially yes, but America's involvement in the war differed radically from that of the other participants. While its rivals or enemies—Britain, Germany, Japan, China, the Soviet Union—poured out their blood and ripped out each other's guts (Russia vs Germany, Japan vs China, etc.) America "phoned in" its war to a surprising degree. Lend-Lease, high-level bombers, carrier-led navies, and a war economy profited off the rest of the World, strangling foes and succoring (temporary) friends. 

However, truly historical interactions between America and the outside world were relatively muted or diluted, and therefore limited in the degree to which they could radically transform or ennoble American society itself. Its rise in power also saw its rising vulgarity and unpunished decadence.

But, worse than that, this global phase also managed to lock the wider World Historical Process into a sterile, stagnant, and even necrotic state, from which we are only just recently seeing signs of emergence. In effect, from 1945 onward America has been imposing its own ahistoricism on the World. This is what we mean by the "American Century"—a hundred years or more of negativity that the World Historical Process will never see again.

But what about America's internal processes? Does that too present a bleak picture?

Without real rivals strong enough and near enough to knead it into shape, the only hope for America is some sort of dynamic of internal development, i.e. a healthy internal political process.

Healthy internal processes?
America, with its worship of a false and fetishistic form of "Democracy," has always had this conceit, a belief that it could somehow politically work things out in ways that other nations simply couldn't. De Tocqueville, with his rosy view of the "virile young Republic" and its "healthy" division of powers, seemed to see this potentiality; whereas Dickens was more astute at seeing how these internal factors would also cancel each other out, and create stagnation, vice, corruption, and spiritual vacuity

The events of recent years—and especially the last election—tell you that it was Dickens whose vision was clearer. His "despicable trickery at elections," "cowardly attacks upon opponents, with scurrilous newspapers for shields," "aidings and abettings of every bad inclination in the popular mind," and "Dishonest Faction in its most depraved and most unblushing form" paints an accurate picture of the recent political cycle, let alone events from the 1840s.

The Tocquevillean "division of powers"—a check on  tyranny—has now metastasized into a political cancer, blocking the possibility of developing any kind of internal coherence. To the traditional elements we must now add an over-intrusive Fourth Estate, an increasingly uncooperative (but never revolutionary) underclass, the Deep State, and of course Corporate America in its hydra-headed forms of Big Tech, Big Pharma, the Military Industrial Complex, etc. These elements have all added to a process of internal stagnation that ensures no real renewal can ever happen.

A very Dickensian election
2016 was the annus mirablis in the international Dissident Right. Two great dissident movements swept the Anglosphere—the Brexit campaign in Britain and the Trump insurgency in America. But while the first achieved its goals for the most part, the other was constantly stifled, undermined, sabotaged, and bogged down. 

Sure, the Trump movement may rise again, and, even without Trump, there may be renewed bursts of populism. But the balance of probabilities is that it will all fizzle out, be co-opted, deflected, or diluted in one way or another. 

A smaller nation would have a chance of focusing such bursts of energy into a cutting edge of radical change. But America is just too big and divided in all the wrong ways. Whatever positive energies are generated from within its vast bulk are doomed to be waylaid and wasted by the new "division of powers" before any positive momentum can be built up.

Britain, of course, has its problems, but it has two things in its favour. Firstly, it is less isolated from the plain of history than America, and therefore subject to its revitalizing forces; and secondly it is a more compact size and thus a better size to resonate with—and focus—internal processes of renewal. Brexit vs. Trump kind of proves that. If the moment of renaissance comes, it has more chance of rising to that challenge than its bloated and gargantuan offspring.
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Colin Liddell is the Chief Editor of Affirmative Right and the author of Interviews & Obituaries, a collection of encounters with the dead and the famous. Support his work by buying it here. He is also featured in Arktos's collection A Fair Hearing: The Alt-Right in the Words of Its Members and Leaders.

2 comments:

  1. I concur. This flawed, utopian, Enlightenment logic, which founded America, would be punished in the Old World. 'All men are created equal' would quickly earn you many enemies in Eurasia. European revulsion towards Revolutionary France is the relevant example here.

    Europe was slowly moving into a post-democratic age in the 20th century. If America hadn't intervened in the world wars and the Cold War, democracy would have died in Europe. Furthermore, no American post-war support would force Europe to deal with its decadence and hubris.

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  2. I live in the inner part of america where the giant inland lakes are, I have not visited every part of this country but it has always been far too big. even the old northwest territory where I live was envisioned by the french and english to be its own region. the southerners feel much the same about their region. the fact that this is one country all just goes to ruin every part. the cities where I live were magnificent in 1880 when the worst beast you could find on the streets was an irishman but thanks to the south breeding tolkinesque horrors for 3 centuries chicago and milwaukee and famously detroit are full of african americans. and the policies decided upon in the chesapeake do only to make everywhere else dependant upon it. everything in america is about destroying regionalism, there used to be regional accents unique to chicago (i.e. the 1920s gangster accent) but now everyone talks like either how californians talk or how southerners (blacks) talk.

    good article colin. I have always been interested in how "bolongna" american democracy is listening to stories from family in old chicago how the ward bosses would get the ethnic gangs to police the tolling areas (this is an american tradition going back to the 1830s when the dead rabbits and bowery boys would smash up the german neighborhoods in new york to keep them from voting, and vise versa)

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