Ovi -
we cover every issue
newsletterNewsletter
subscribeSubscribe
contactContact
searchSearch
Resource for Foreigners in Finland  
Ovi Bookshop - Free Ebook
worldwide creative inspiration
Ovi Language
Murray Hunter: Essential Oils: Art, Agriculture, Science, Industry and Entrepreneurship
Stop violence against women
Tony Zuvela - Cartoons, Illustrations
Stop human trafficking
 
BBC News :   - 
iBite :   - 
GermanGreekEnglishSpanishFinnishFrenchItalianPortugueseSwedish
Europeans from Venus, Americans from beyond the Stars? Europeans from Venus, Americans from beyond the Stars?
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2007-11-24 10:33:26
Print - Comment - Send to a Friend - More from this Author
DeliciousRedditFacebookDigg! StumbleUpon

Abstract: The causes of the crisis of legitimacy afflicting the transatlantic alliance cannot be discerned by simply focusing on Machiavellian secular issues of real politik, or on President Bush’s inept foreign policy, but by searching for the way America sees itself vis-à-vis the rest of the world, in its Puritan religious roots.

We have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom.”
(President George W. Bush, at 2004 RNC)

Neoconservative thinker Robert Kagan, originator of the popular slogan and rather naïve caricature “Americans from Mars, Europeans from Venus”, has recently suggested in his book Of Paradise and Power that the United States throughout its history has tended to view itself as an “exception” of sort to international law; that at times it has been willing to “set aside legal and institutional constraints” as it pursues its national interests. Now however, Kagan detects a “crisis of legitimacy,” a legitimacy that only the Europeans can provide, but is being withheld by their stubborn insistence on multilateralism. As per Kagan, this is tantamount to endangering the West’s ability to defend liberal democracy.

Now, this in-your-face admission of America’s “exceptionalism” coming from an elitist neoconservative, while not very surprising, could at first sight be viewed as a breath of fresh air for its sheer candor; but the reader is advised not hold his/her breath for too long. Kagan does not see the crisis as originating in America’s view of itself vis-à-vis the rest of the world, as it could be logically be expected, given Kagan’s premises, but from the fact that Europeans in general are proving to be recalcitrant and obstructionists in the furthering of America’s rightful hegemony in the world.

Now, this kind of schizophrenia is aptly dubbed “wanting the cake and eating it too.” For, while on one hand Kagan admits that some of America’s actions have violated liberal Western principles (those very principles that have traditionally been the cultural identity and the cement unifying the Western world), on the other hand he criticizes those who fail to approve the illiberal actions he describes. In other words, the NATO allies ought simply to trust that America’s goals are wise and honorable and just come along in the defense of liberal democracy and freedom around the world. This is to say, Kagan, not unlike President Bush, wants it both ways. And indeed, it is this belligerent schizophrenic posture that is winning us new enemies and losing us old friends. It can safely be predicted that, if not abandoned, it will ultimately endanger, rather than strengthen America. The former UN President Kofi Annan intimated as much when he declared that “those who seek to bestow legitimacy must themselves embody it, and those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it.”

On the European side of the Atlantic American unilateralism is perceived as sheer hubris and lack of political sophistication. This is imputed to the failure in reading correctly the political tea leaves of today’s global world on the part of a lone “Texas cowboy” who, as inept commander in chief, confuses straggling with plain walking on the world stage. I would suggest that this view is also flawed. It is the view of a secularist “enlightened” Europe which either makes history begin in 1950 with the advent of the EU or, with Fukuyama, declares history as ended. I further suggest that to even begin to understand the import of the above quote by George Bush, one needs to desist from obsessing on George Bush’s chauvinism to trace the roots of the statement to its Puritan origins. The chauvinism is a symptom, not a cause of the cultural hubris discernible in it.

Those Puritan roots render a George Bush very attractive to the legions of fundamentalist Christians who have a Manichean view of reality, see the world as black and while, as good on one side (us) and evil on the other (them) and no other alternatives in between. Those people take their beliefs, as misguided as they may be, very seriously, just as seriously in fact as football games and market stocks. Moreover, those roots, still alive and well in America, despite the deceiving appearances, allow even secular Americans, to consider American national interests as the very embodiment of transcendent universal human values, and equate the cause of America with the cause of all mankind.

Unless Puritanism is brought into the equation, even a sophisticated European may fail to discern what makes America tick, as was the case with De Tocqueville at first. For this exceptionalism is exceptional indeed; it is an unprecedented phenomenon in history, even by aristocratic European standards. For indeed, while it is true that the French invented the word chauvinism; that De Gaulle used to go around proclaiming that “France cannot be France without greatness,” that imperialism and colonialism originated in Europe, it is also true that even with all that Napoleonic hubris, no European nation has ever proclaimed itself as “chosen by God from beyond the stars,” as a model for the rest of the world; although, if truth be told, Napoleonic complexes may well be the subconscious cause for those psycho-historical perplexities, dealing with Jung’s shadows and projections, that have been afflicting the Transatlantic Alliance lately.

But, let us focus on Puritanism. How is it responsible for this exceptional view that Americans have of themselves vis-à-vis the rest of the world; a view that seems to provoke so much resentment across the Atlantic pond? In the first place we must remember that the Puritans, were people escaping a religious persecution in aristocratic England, via the Netherlands. Their Calvinist theology instructed them that God richly rewards those who respect his laws and work hard to bring about his kingdom. This theology was the foundation for what Max Weber later calls the spirit of capitalism: wealth as a byproduct of hard work is a sign of God’s favor; a sort of predestination to salvation via money. Eventually in its more secularized version it comes across as: my money in the bank, abundant production and consumption demonstrates that I am superior to that lazy homeless bum in the street. The perfect icon for this sort of man is Benjamin Franklyn, while Thomas Edison and Henry Ford (who used to vacation together in Fort Mayer Florida) are the icons for the man of progress.

Coupled with social Darwinism this social philosophy comes across as: progress is inevitable, so move over and let progress and market forces through, never mind your cultural traditions; those traditions need to be melted in the big melting pot of progress; history is bunk. To understand that mind-set is to understand the anti-global movement that baffles so many secularists with binoculars and no rear-view mirrors. In any case, at the outset, the secular and the religious are one and the same. It is a sort of Protestant turning up-side-down of the Humanistic Franciscan Catholic concept of the intrinsic dignity of each and every human being (and even every animal) as a child of God, independent of the wealth he/she is able to accumulate.

Moreover, when the Puritans arrive at Plymouth Rock on the Mayflower, they find a continent that fits perfectly with their theology, they consider the continent set aside by a favoring Providence for a great politico-religious experiment. Never mind, that there were already millions of people living here for thousands of years. Their presence and their own unique experiment of harmony with nature counted very little for the Puritans. For the continent, in its sheer expansiveness appeared nearly empty, it was indeed ready made to become a “city on a hill.” The native-American was a nuisance that needed to simply move over or, for their own good, be forced to join the experiment. Their non-compliance usually meant extermination or relegation to reservations.

The above, admittedly schematic, analysis of Puritanism partly explains President Bush’s insistence that “freedom is not America’s gift to the world. Freedom is God’s gift to every person in the world.” So, as this rather convoluted and misguided theological reasoning goes, if freedom is God’s gift and we are freeing people all over the world, then logically, we are doing God’s work and have a providential right to dictate to others. Indeed, it is as logical and rational as an Aristotelian syllogism. Trouble is it is based on false premises as extreme rationalism devoid of imagination usually is. It assumes that, just as it was done to the Native American, for their own good, we may now legitimately impose democracy on others. They may not thank us now, but they will later when the goods arrive, never mind Plato’s abstract, transcendent Good, True, Beautiful.

If the above sounds rather Orwellian, it is. In fact, one can go a bit further with this line of reasoning and proclaim to the world that “we are God’s gift to the world!” Kagan to some extent says something similar when he writes that “it is reasonable to assume that we have only just entered a long era of American hegemony.” Really? A new thousand years of Pax Americana comparable to Pax Romana? Actually if one looks at the thousand year history of Rome there wasn’t that much peace around at any one time and when there was, out of fear of retaliation on the part of its enemies, it was not an authentic peace and did not last very long. Their motto was not the Christian one “if you want peace work for justice’” but the real politik Machiavellian one, if you wan peace prepare for war. And they were always at war, if truth be told. Is it any wonder that our European allies are not happy campers? On the other hand, those allies need to be aware that the rest of the world will not come to their side if it perceives that their motives are not so pure and derive from the wannabe syndrome, mere resentment of present American hegemony. They need to offer a real alternative, not just resentment.

In conclusion, the above analysis begs two crucial questions: 1) may it also be reasonable to assume that the rest of the world, when confronted with this taken for granted Providential plan called “American world hegemony,” based on the false premise that, as the best nation that ever existed on the face of the earth (a nation that Lincoln called “the last best hope of the world”), we have a right to dictate to others, it will fiercely resist it? And, 2) Which is the real issue: the mantra that George Bush keeps repeating, that American values are universal and “right and true for every person,” (which one can even assume as true as our European allies also do), or rather, whether or not every individual in every society on this earth will have a say in constructing his/her society free from any coercion and intimidation. For indeed an imposed democracy an oxymoron makes.


     
Print - Comment - Send to a Friend - More from this Author

Comments(15)
Get it off your chest
Name:
Comment:
 (comments policy)

Sand2007-11-24 13:03:48
Cynicism like garlic may have a repellent odor for some people but it frequently can make the world palatable. Anybody that takes George W.Bush and his evil crew at their word as to what are the motivations for their actions in the world cannot be taken seriously.


Emanuel Paparella2007-11-27 20:44:37
Fortunately most readers read the article first and then its comments and interpretations or one may end up assuming, with the voices in one's head, that the article actually approves of the motivations of the present US Administration. Shalom.


Sand2007-11-27 21:30:27
My comment had nothing to do with approval or disapproval. It had to do with taking seriously what Bush claims as his motivations. The man is a consistent liar and will say anything to get his way. To reason out of his statements is to be an utter gullible fool.


Emanuel Paparella2007-11-28 14:04:14
Any reader can determine for him/herself that the article was not about George Bush but about Puritan Theology as underpinning for the way Americans see themselves. A theology which needs to be understood even if rejected in order not to fall into shallow caricatures such as that posted in this forum from Counter Punch which bashes the rationale for Thankgiving by trivializing or ignoring Puritan theology. I am afraid that more than trading of insults are needed to resolve an issue. Shalom.


Sand2007-11-28 14:35:16
Direct quote.

The above, admittedly schematic, analysis of Puritanism partly explains President Bush’s insistence that “freedom is not America’s gift to the world. Freedom is God’s gift to every person in the world.” So, as this rather convoluted and misguided theological reasoning goes, if freedom is God’s gift and we are freeing people all over the world, then logically, we are doing God’s work and have a providential right to dictate to others. Indeed, it is as logical and rational as an Aristotelian syllogism. Trouble is it is based on false premises as extreme rationalism devoid of imagination usually is. It assumes that, just as it was done to the Native American, for their own good, we may now legitimately impose democracy on others. They may not thank us now, but they will later when the goods arrive, never mind Plato’s abstract, transcendent Good, True, Beautiful.


Sand2007-11-28 16:12:49
I am reasonably sure that a short interview with a surviving Native American would be rather illuminating as to whether the Pilgrims should be taken off the hook for their behavior.


Emanuel Paparella2007-11-28 18:13:25
How does that direct quote excuse the Puritans? It does not of course, except with the voices in one's head who insist on bashing with no understanding and settle issues with insults. Decency, indeed!


Sand2007-11-28 18:51:13
This is the third time you tried to shift the point without facing my objection. The point was that you are arguing with Bush's stated principles and I reiterate again that you cannot use what the man says in any way whatsoever in arguing against his justifications for his actions. He is a LIAR and I'm damned if I can figure what you are but it is not anything I find carrying any validity.


Emanuel Paparella2007-11-28 20:12:16
For the nth time, you need to persuade the insistent voices in your head that the article was not about Mr. Bush and his veracity or lack thereof, but about the philosophical/theological underpinning of the way Americans see themselves they way they do. It remains dubious whether or not you'll convince them but if you cannot, all the more I cannot.


Sand2007-11-28 20:44:16
There are all sorts of Americans and as appalling as the spooks and crooks now controlling the government may be I assume you are not a lone American pissing into the sea. Your demented religious attitude is probably something of a put off to reasonable Americans but I'm sure you can find a few sensible people. Keep looking.


Emanuel Paparella2007-11-28 21:45:56
Considering theat 95% of Americans believe in a personal God, the observation is rather tupsy turvy, wouldn't you say? Or do the voices in your head tell you that the only sensible people in America are the 5% who don't believe in God?


Sand2007-11-28 23:35:29
Look at the people elected to run the country and you tell me.


Emanuel Paparella2007-11-29 11:35:12
Surely the country tha hosts you has at the very least four times a many atheists and agnostics as the US which to you mind makes it a "more enlightened" place where citizens of the world may take refuge. Solution: we ought to elect only atheists and then voilà all social problems will disappear and we will have heaven on earth. Wait a minute, did we not try that for seventy years in a place called the Soviet Union? And it there not a place called the People's Republic where the same experiment is going on? Judging from what they did to Tibet, the chances of repeating the same disaster look pretty good. Talking of garlic...



Sand2007-11-30 19:17:29
The USSR may have been atheist in government policy but to assume that it was religion that was the prime reason for overthrowing the Czar is to purposely distort the reason for the Russian revolution by playing much more stupid than even you could claim to be. You do seem to be reasonably well informed about history and there is no question that the Russian power structure before the revolution saw the alliance of the royal oppressors and the Russian Orthodox Church. You coould not possibly be ignorant of this and your attempt to cast the whole situation as a matter of religion is revealing of your character to violently distort truth to make a point.


Emanuel Paparella2007-12-03 17:44:08
The Gulag Arcipelago. There is the reply to your distortions.


© Copyright CHAMELEON PROJECT Tmi 2005-2008  -  Sitemap  -  Add to favourites  -  Link to Ovi
Privacy Policy  -  Contact  -  RSS Feeds  -  Search  -  Submissions  -  Subscribe  -  About Ovi