THE AMERICAN DREAM

Written by Vladimir Moss

THE AMERICAN DREAM

 

     For all his admiration of the Prussian State as the embodiment of the World Spirit, the German philosopher Hegel saw the land of the future as America. This was one of the few genuine insights of his philosophy. For indeed, in the early nineteenth century the American eagle was beginning to spread its wings… 

     Of all the major countries that can be called European in the cultural sense, America was the most advanced from the liberal point of view (just as Russia was the most “backward”); her economic system was more purely capitalist than any other’s; and her system of government was more democratic than any other’s. For the scourges of despotism and feudalism had been more effectively removed from America than from any other country. In spite of this, American democracy had its critics from early on.

     Thus the New Yorker Thomas Whitney declared: "I take direct issue with democracy. If democracy implies universal suffrage, or the right of all men to take part in the control of the State without regard to the intelligence, the morals, or the principles of the man, I am no democrat... As soon would I place my person and property at the mercy of an infuriated mob... as place the liberties of my country in the hands of an ignorant, superstitious, and vacillating populace."[1]

     One of the best of America’s critics was the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville, who came to America in 1831 and whose Democracy in America was published in 1835. He saw an important fault of American democracy was what he called “the tyranny of the majority”, whose power, he considered, threatened to become not only predominant, but irresistible: “The moral authority of the majority is partly based on the notion that there is more enlightenment and wisdom in a numerous assembly than in a single man, and the number of the legislators is more important than how they are chosen. It is the theory of equality applied to brains. This doctrine attacks the last asylum of human pride; for that reason the minority is reluctant in admitting it and takes a long time to get used to it…

     “The idea that the majority has a right based on enlightenment to govern society was brought to the United States by its first inhabitants; and this idea, which would of itself be enough to create a free nation, has by now passed into mores and affects even the smallest habits of life…”[2] 

     One effect, paradoxically, of this freedom was extreme intolerance of any minority opinion. “I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America. The majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them.”[3]

     This contributed to a general “dumbing down” of culture, although this cultivated Frenchman admitted it also prevented complete brutalization. “Few pleasures are either very refined or very coarse, and highly polished manners are as uncommon as great brutality of tastes. Neither men of great learning nor extremely ignorant communities are to be met with; genius becomes more rare, information more diffused. There is less perfection, but more abundance in all the productions of the arts.”[4]

      This state of affairs was facilitated by the fact that there was no native American aristocracy, and few minority interests (except those of the Indians and Negroes) which were directly and permanently antagonistic to the interests of the majority. “Hence the majority in the United States has immense actual power and a power of opinion which is almost as great. When once its mind is made up on any question, there are, so to say, no obstacles which can retard, much less halt, its progress and give it time to hear the wails of those it crushes as it passes.

     “The consequences of this state of affairs are fate-laden and dangerous for the future…”[5]

     One of the consequences was legislative instability, “an ill inherent in democratic government because it is the nature of democracies to bring new men to power…. Thus American laws have a shorter duration than those of any other country in the world today. Almost all American constitutions have been amended within the last thirty years, and so there is no American state which has not modified the basis of its laws within that period…

     “As the majority is the only power whom it is important to please, all its projects are taken up with great ardour; but as soon as its attention is turned elsewhere, all these efforts cease; whereas in free European states, where the administrative authority has an independent existence and an assured position, the legislator’s wishes continue to be executed even when he is occupied by other matters.”[6]

     But, continues de Tocqueville, “I regard it as an impious and detestable maxim that in matters of government the majority of a people has the right to do everything, and nevertheless I place the origin of all powers in the will of the majority. Am I in contradiction with myself?

     “There is one law which has been made, or at least adopted, not by the majority of this or that people, but by the majority of all men. That law is justice.

     “Justice therefore forms the boundary to each people’s right.

     “A nation is like a jury entrusted to represent universal society and to apply the justice which is its law. Should the jury representing society have greater power than that very society whose laws it applies? 

     “Consequently, when I refuse to obey an unjust law, I by no means deny the majority’s right to give orders; I only appeal from the sovereignty of the people to the sovereignty of the human race.”[7]

     In a believing age, instead of “the sovereignty of the human race”, the phrase would have been: “the sovereignty of God” or “the authority of the Church as the representative of God”. But after this obeisance to the atheist and democratic temper of his age, de Tocqueville does in fact invoke the sovereignty of God. For the essential fact is that the majority – even the majority of the human race – can be wrong, and that only God is infallible. “Omnipotence in itself seems a bad and dangerous thing. I think that its exercise is beyond man’s strength, whoever he be, and that only God can be omnipotent without danger because His wisdom and justice are always equal to His power. So there is no power on earth in itself so worthy of respect or vested with such a sacred right that I would wish to let it act without control and dominate without obstacles. So when I see the right and capacity to do all given to any authority whatsoever, whether it be called people or king, democracy or aristocracy, and whether the scene of action is a monarchy or a republic, I say: the germ of tyranny is there, and I will go look for other laws under which to live.

     “My greatest complaint against democratic government as organised in the United States is not, as many Europeans make out, its weakness, but rather its irresistible strength. What I find most repulsive in America is not the extreme freedom reigning there, but the shortage of guarantees against tyranny.

     “When a man or a party suffers an injustice in the United States, to whom can he turn? To public opinion? That is what forms the majority. To the legislative body? It represents the majority and obeys it blindly. To the executive power? It is appointed by the majority and serves as its passive instrument. To the police? They are nothing but the majority under arms. A jury? The jury is the majority vested with the right to pronounce judgement; even the judges in certain states are elected by the majority. So, however, iniquitous or unreasonable the measure which hurts you, you must submit.

 

     “But suppose you were to have a legislative body so composed that it represented the majority without being necessarily the slave of its passions, an executive power having a strength of its own, and a judicial power independent of the other two authorities; then you would still have a democratic government, but there would be hardly any remaining risk of tyranny.”[8]

     Towards the end of his great work, de Tocqueville describes in a remarkably prescient manner how he sees democracy changing into a benevolent yet sinister despotism: “I ask myself in what form will despotism reappear in the world. I see an immense agglomeration of people, all equal and alike, each of them restlessly active in getting for himself petty and vulgar pleasures which fill his whole being. Each of them, left to himself, is stranger to the fate of all the others. A vast, protecting power overshadows them. This power alone is responsible for securing their satisfaction and for watching over their fates. The power is absolute, concerned with every detail, smooth in operation, takes account of the future, and is not harsh… The power wants all citizens to be happy, provided that happiness is their sole aim. It works willingly for their well-being, but insists upon being the source of this well-being and the sole judge of what it should consist. It gives them security, foresees and supplies their needs, facilitates their pleasures, conducts the principal business of their live, manages their industries, divides their properties and regulates their inheritances and, in short, saves them from the trouble of thinking and the difficulties of living.

 

     “This tutelary power is continuously at work to render less useful and more infrequent the use of free-will; the sphere of liberty of decision is thus restricted more and more until every citizen loses, as it were, the control of himself. Equality has conditioned men for all these transformations and prepared to accept such things and even to welcome them as beneficial.

      “After having brought the individual, stage by stage, into its mighty bonds and moulded him to its wishes, the sovereign extends its tentacles over the community as a whole, and covers the surface of society with a network of little rules, complicated, detailed and uniform, but from beneath which the more original minds and the more vigorous personalities can find no way of extricating themselves and rising above the crowd. The sovereign does not break the wills of the subjects; it enervates them, bends them to its purpose, directs them, rarely forcing them to act, but continually preventing them from action; it does not destroy, but merely prevents things from coming to life; it never tyrannizes, but it hampers, dumps down, constricts, suffocates, and at the last reduces every nation to the level of timid and industrious animals of whom the Government is the shepherd… 

     “This kind of regulated servitude, well regulated placid and gentle, could be combined – more easily than one would think possible – with the forms of liberty and could even establish itself under the shadow of the sovereignty of the people.”[9]  

     The democratic government de Tocqueville had in mind here as preventing the tyranny of the majority was probably that of England, with its rule by “the king in parliament”, its respect for custom and strong aristocratic element.

     England’s aristocratic element did indeed protect the English from some of the excesses of democracy for a time, eliciting the comment of Konstantin Petrovich Pobedonostsev that parliamentary government was possible only in England. Nevertheless, the process of further democratization was inexorable.

     In this context, and in the light of our modern experience of democracy, it will be useful to examine the estimate of de Tocqueville given by his fellow Frenchman and fierce anti-communist, Jean-François Revel: “Tocqueville the visionary depicted with stunning precision the coming ascension of the omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient state that twentieth-century man knows so well; the state as protector, entrepreneur, educator; the physician-state, helpful and predatory, tyrant and guardian, economist, journalist, moralist, shipper, trader, advertiser, banker, father and jailer all at once. The state ransoms and the state subsidizes. It settles without violence into a wheedling, meticulous despotism that no monarchy, no tyranny, no political authority of the past had the means to achieve. Its power borders on the absolute partly because it is scarcely felt, having increased by imperceptible stages at the wish of its subjects, who turn to it instead of to each other. In these pages by Tocqueville we find the germ both of George Orwell’s 1984 and David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd.

     “In one sense, history has endorsed Tocqueville’s reasoning and, in another, has invalidated it. He has been proved right insofar as the power of public opinion has indeed increased in the democracies through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But public opinion has not grown more consistent or uniform; it has in fact become increasingly volatile and diversified. And the state, instead of gaining strength in proportion to its gigantism, is increasingly disobeyed and challenged by the very citizens who expect so much from it. Submerged by the demands on it, called on to solve all problems, it is being steadily stripped of the right to regulate things.

     “So the omnipotence based on consensus that Tocqueville forecast is only one side of the coin of modern government. The other is an equally general impotence to deal with the conflicting daily claims made on it by constituents eager for aid but less and less willing to assume obligations. By invading every area of life, the democratic state has stuffed itself with more responsibilities than powers. The very contradictions among special interests that are as legitimate as they are incompatible, all expecting to be treated with equal goodwill, show that the state’s duties are expanding faster than its means of performing them. There is no denying how burdensome a tutelary government is on society – provided we add that its expansion makes it vulnerable, often paralysing it in its relations with client groups that are quicker to harry it than obey it.

     “This sort of behavior splinters democratic societies into separate groups, each battling for advantage and caring little for the interests of others or society as a whole. Public opinion, instead of being united by uniform thinking, is fragmented into a variety of cultures that can be so different in tastes, ways of living, attitudes and language that they understand each other only dimly, if at all. They coexist but do not mingle. Public opinion in today’s democracies forms an archipelago, not a continent. Each island in the chain ranks its own distinctiveness above membership in a national group and even higher above its association with a group of democratic nations. 

     “In one sense, we do live in a mass era as residents of a ‘planetary village’ where manners and fashions blend. But, paradoxically, we also live in an age of the triumph of minorities, of a juxtaposition of widely differing attitudes. While it is obvious that the passion for equality, identified by Tocqueville as the drive wheel of democracy, generates uniformity, let’s not forget that democracy also rests on a passion for liberty, which fosters diversity, fragmentation, unorthodoxy. Plato, democracy’s shrewdest enemy, saw this when he compared it to a motley cloak splashed with many colours. In a democracy, he said, everyone claims the right to lives as he chooses [Republic 8], so that ways of living multiply and jostle each other. To Aristotle, too, liberty was the basic principle of democracy. He broke this down into two tenets: ‘for all to rule and be ruled in turn’ and ‘a man should live as he likes’. In American democracy, the right to do one’s own thing is as much or more cherished than equality.”[10]

     More cherished even than the Christianity that they so prided themselves on, which exhorted men to be “free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice” (I Peter 2.16)...

     This brings us to the question of American religion and the secular religion of Americanness. “In America,” wrote Sir Roger Scruton in 2002, “religion has been a vital force in building the nation. The initial unity of faith among the Pilgrim Fathers rapidly disintegrated, however, and while religious worship remains an important feature of the American experience, freedom of conscience has been guaranteed from the beginning by the Bill of Rights. This does not mean that America is a secular nation, or that religion has no part to play in establishing the legitimacy of American institutions. It means, rather, that all the many religions of America are bound to acknowledge the authority of the territorial law, and that each renounces the right to intrude on the claims of the state. Furthermore, these religions come under pressure to divert their emotional currents into the common flow of patriotic sentiment: the God of the American sects speaks with an American accent.

     “The patriotism that upholds the nation-state may embellish itself with far-reaching and even metaphysical ideas like the theories of race and culture that derive from Herder, Fichte and the German romantics. But it might just as easily rest content with a kind of mute sense of belonging – an inarticulate experience of neighbourliness – founded in the recognition that this place where we live is ours. This is the patriotism of the village, of the rural community, and also of the city street, and it has been a vital force in the building of modern America. Indeed, in the last analysis, national identity, like territorial jurisdiction, is an outgrowth of the experience of a common home.

     “Of course, if people turn their backs on one another, live behind closed doors in suburban isolation, then this sense of neighbourliness dwindles. But it can also be restored through the ‘little platoons’ described by Burke and recognized by Tocqueville as the true lifeblood of America. By joining clubs and societies, by forming teams, troupes, and competitions, by acquiring sociable hobbies and outgoing modes of entertainment, people come to feel that they and their neighbours belong together, and this ‘belonging’ has more importance, in times of emergency, than any private difference in matters of religion or family life. Indeed, freedom of association has an inherent tendency to generate territorial loyalties and so to displace religion from the public to the private realm…”[11]

     This may have been true in the nineteenth century, or even in some parts in the 1950s, but feels outdated today, in the twenty-first century, when social cohesiveness has declined drastically, political divides have become much deeper and fiercer, and religion has been not only banished to the private realm, but been invaded and trampled on. True social cohesiveness does not exist without the true faith, which the Americans did not possess (although they gave refuge to many immigrants having the true faith). Hence the sage words of President John Adams: “We have no government capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion… Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.”

     Let us turn to America’s attitude to other nations.

     While the Old World was tearing itself apart, the newly independent power of the United States was sheltered from the turmoil not only by the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean,[12] but also by its own very distinctive understanding of itself and its role in the world.

     In his Farewell Address of 1796 President George Washington admonished his countrymen to avoid allowing the newly independent United States to be dragged into the ongoing wars and strife that characterized Europe. “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations,” he said, “is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities. Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course.”

     “In other words,” writes Protopresbyter James Thornton, “while friendship and trade with all countries is a good thing, the United States should maintain strict neutrality when it comes to Europe’s seemingly everlasting quarrels since they involve nothing that concerns this country.

     “President Thomas Jefferson spoke similarly when, in his 1801 inaugural address, he advocated ‘peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.’ That policy of friendship and trade with all, but alliances with none, remained the cornerstone of our country’s foreign policy throughout the 19th century. Indeed, during that time there were occasional conflicts with other nations. But these involved the immediate interests, or the defense of the sovereignty, of the United States. Let us review major events in America’s foreign policy during that period.

     “An example of a policy that involved America’s interests was the First Barbary War, which began in 1801. Pirates along the North African coast regularly attacked commercial vessels, including those of the United States, seizing them and either holding their captives for ransom or selling them into slavery. In exchange for tribute payments, the Pasha of Tripoli offered protection against these attacks. For some time, the United States paid the protection money, but when Tripoli demanded increased payments, the United States refused. A squadron of ships was sent to the Mediterranean and, when threatened by Tripolitanian pirates, engaged them in battle. A blockade was enforced against Tripoli, and both sea and land battles ensued. The climax came when a U.S.-led army crossed the desert from Alexandria to the city of Derna, which was captured. The Pasha, fearful of further encroachment by the U.S. forces, agreed to terms and signed a peace treaty that satisfied American concerns. A Second Barbary War was fought in 1815 when the Barbary States returned to their old practices. Two powerful American squadrons under Commodores William Bainbridge and Stephen Decatur entered the Mediterranean, attacking and capturing enemy ships. U.S. envoys demanded an end to piracy and threatened the North African rulers. The war ended with a new treaty that guaranteed American rights in the Mediterranean, granted compensation for American losses, and freed American and European captives.

     “Another example of war to uphold American interests was the War of 1812, declared by the United States against Britain on June 18, 1812. Hostilities were brought about when Britain stopped American ships on the high seas to seize American seamen and impress, or force, them to serve in the Royal Navy. That was a direct assault on American sovereignty and an attack on the ability of the United States to sail the oceans of the world for purposes of peaceful commerce and communication unmolested. To make matters worse, Britain tried to foment an uprising by Indians on the American frontier. After more than two years of war, during which part of Maine was occupied and the U.S. capital burned, negotiations brought peace. The Treaty of Ghent was signed in December 1814, in which American grievances were satisfactorily addressed.”[13]

     As the nineteenth century progressed, however, another aspect of American foreign policy emerged… Having been a colony that had won its independence from an imperialist power, the United States has always been officially an anti-imperialist State. So it is something of a surprise to discover that in the very year of the Declaration of Independence, leading American politicians were foreseeing the growth of an empire. Thus Ferguson writes: “When, in the draft Articles of Confederation of July, 1776, John Dickinson proposed setting western boundaries of the states, the idea was thrown out at the committee stage. To George Washington the United States was a ‘nascent empire’, later an ‘infant empire’. Thomas Jefferson told James Madison he was ‘persuaded no constitution was ever before as well calculated as ours for extending extensive empire and self-government.’ The initial ‘confederacy’ of thirteen would be ‘the nest from which all America, North and South [would] be peopled.’ Indeed, Jefferson used his inaugural address in 1801 to observe that the short history of the United States had already furnished ‘a new proof for the falsehood of Montesquieu’s doctrine, that a republic can be preserved only in a small territory. The reverse is the truth.’ Madison agreed; in the tenth of the Federalist Papers he forcefully argued for ‘extend[ing] the sphere’ to create a larger republic. Alexander Hamilton too referred to the United States – in the opening paragraph of the first of the Federalist Papers as ‘in many respects the most interesting… empire… in the world.’ He looked forward eagerly to the emergence of a ‘great American system, superior to the control of all trans-Atlantic force of influence, and able to dictate the terms of connection between the Old and the New World.’”[14]

     Henry Kissinger explains how this quasi-imperialist element of American foreign policy arose: “The openness of American culture and its democratic principles made the United States a model and a refuge for millions. At the same time, the conviction that American principles were universal has introduced a challenging element into the international system because it implies that governments not practicing them are less than fully legitimate. This tenet – so engrained in American thinking that is only occasionally put forward as official policy – suggests that a significant portion of the world lives under a kind of unsatisfactory, probationary arrangement, and will one day be redeemed; in the meantime, their relations with the world’s strongest power must have some latent adversarial element to them.

     “These tensions have been inherent since the beginning of the American experience. For Thomas Jefferson, America was not only a great power in the making but an ‘empire for liberty’ – an ever-expanding force acting on behalf of all humanity to vindicate principles of good governance. As Jefferson wrote during his presidency: ‘We feel that we are acting under obligations not confined to the limits of our society. It is impossible not to be sensible that we are acting for all mankind; that circumstances denied to others, but indulged to us, have imposed on us the duty of proving what is the degree of freedom and self-government in which a society may venture to leave its individual members.’

     “So defined, the spread of the United States and the success of its endeavors was coterminous with the interests of humanity. Having doubled the size of the new country through his shrewd engineering of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, in retirement Jefferson ‘candidly confess[ed]’ to President Monroe, ‘I have ever looked on Cuba as the most interesting addition which could ever be made to our system of States.’ And to James Madison, Jefferson wrote, ‘We should then have only to include the North [Canada] in our confederacy… and we should such an empire for liberty as she has never surveyed since the creation: & I am persuaded no constitution was ever before so well calculated as ours for extensive empire & self government.’ The empire envisaged by Jefferson and his colleagues differed, in their minds, from the European empires, which they considered based on the subjugation and oppression of foreign peoples. The empire imagined by Jefferson was in essence North American and conceived as the extension of liberty. (And in fact, whatever may be said about the contradictions in this prospect or of the personal lives of its Founders, as the United States expanded and thrived, so too did democracy, and the aspiration toward it spread and took root across the hemisphere and the world.)”[15]

     Soon this “empire for liberty” was conceived as embracing not only North but also Central and South America. In 1823, as we have seen, President James Monroe asserted his famous “Monroe doctrine”, which Ferguson calls “the fons et origo of American grand strategy”. It asserted “as a principle… that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers”. The point of the Monroe doctrine, according to Thornton, “was to keep any European conflicts from spilling over into the Americas and, thereby, to avoid ensnaring the United States in Europe’s disputes”[16] Almost inevitably, however, it came to be seen by some as giving America exclusive right to interfere anywhere in the western hemisphere where she considered her own interests to be at stake…

     Kissinger writes: “In the United State, the Monroe Doctrine was interpreted as the extension of the War of Independence, sheltering the Western Hemisphere from the operation of the European balance of power. No Latin American countries were consulted (not least because few existed at the time). As the frontiers of the nation crept across the continent, the expansion of America was seen as the operation of a kind of law of nature. When the United States practiced what elsewhere was defined as imperialism, Americans gave it another name: ‘the fulfilment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.’ The acquisition of vast tracts of territory was treated as a commercial transaction in the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France and as the inevitable consequence of this Manifest Destiny in the case of Mexico. It was not until the close of the nineteenth century in the Spanish-American War of 1898, that the United States engaged in full-scale hostilities with another major power…

     “The success of the United States, [wrote the United States Magazine and Democratic Review,] would serve as a standing rebuke to all other forms of government, ushering in a future democratic age. A great, free union, divinely sanctioned and towering above all other states, would spread its principles throughout the Western Hemisphere – a power destined to become greater in scope and in moral purpose than any previous human endeavour: ‘We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what can, set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power can. The United States was thus not simply a country but an engine of God’s plan and the epitome of world order.

     “In 1845, when American westward expansion embroiled the country in a dispute with Britain over the Oregon Territory and with Mexico over the Republic of Texas (which had seceded from Mexico and declared its intent to join the United States),[17] the magazine concluded that the annexation of Texas was a defensive measure against the foes of liberty. The author reasoned that ‘California will probably, next fall away’ from Mexico, and an American sweep north into Canada would likely follow. The continental force of America, he reasoned, would eventually render Europe’s balance of power inconsequential by its sheer countervailing weight. Indeed the author of the Democratic Review article foresaw a day, one hundred years hence – that is, 1945 – when the United States would outweigh even a unified, hostile Europe: ‘Though they should cast into the opposite scale all the bayonets and cannons, not only of France and England, but of Europe entire, how would it kick the beam against the simple, solid weight of the two hundred and fifty, or three hundred million – and American millions – destined to gather beneath the flutter of the stripes and stars, in the fast hastening year of the Lord 1945!’

     “This is, in fact, what transpired (except that the Canadian border was peacefully demarcated, and England was not part of a hostile Europe in 1945, but rather an ally). Bombastic and prophetic, the vision of America transcending and counterbalancing the harsh doctrines of the Old World would inspire a nation – often while being largely ignored elsewhere or prompting consternation – and reshape the course of history…”[18]

     But while America was fulfilling her “Manifest Destiny”, millions were dying to make way for the coming Universal Empire of Liberty. These were, of course, the American Indians, whose treatment at the hands of the Americans was much worse than, for example, the treatment of the Siberian natives by the Russians. (And the relatives of the Siberian natives in Alaska wept when the Russian flag was taken down for the last time when the United States bought Alaska in 1867.)

     “The indigenous population [of North America],” writes William Landes, “was uprooted repeatedly to make way for land-hungry newcomers. The Indians fought back, the more so as settler expansion entailed repeated violations of ostensibly sacred and eternal agreements – as long as the sun would shine and the waters run. The white man broke faith at will, while the natives were slaughtered... Here… technology made the difference. Repeating weapons, batch- or mass-produced with roughly interchangeable parts, multiplied the firepower of even small numbers and made Indian resistance hopeless.”[19]

     Noam Chomsky has called the white man’s slaughter of the American Indians “pure genocide… Current estimates are that north of the Rio Grande, there were about twelve to fifteen million Native Americans at the time Columbus landed, something like that. By the time Europeans reached the continental borders of the United States, there were about 200,000. Okay: mass genocide. Across the whole Western Hemisphere, the population decline was probably on the order of from a hundred million people to about five million. That’s pretty serious stuff – it was horrifying right from the beginning in the early seventeenth century, then it got worse after the United States was established, and it just continued until finally the native populations were basically stuck away in little enclaves. The history of treaty violations by the United States is just grotesque: treaties with the Indian nations by law have a status the same as that of treaties among sovereign states, but throughout our history nobody ever paid the slightest attention to them – as soon as they wanted more land, you just forgot the treaty and robbed it; it’s a very ugly and vicious history. Hitler in fact used the treatment of the Native Americans as a model, explicitly – he said, that’s what we’re going to do with the Jews…”[20]

     The Russian poet Alexander Pushkin had, like Hegel, been attracted at first to the United States. However, after reading a review of a book on the North American Indians, he changed his mind: “My respect for this new people and its constitution, the fruit of the newest enlightenment,” he wrote, “has been severely shaken. With amazement we have seen democracy in its disgusting cynicism, its cruel prejudices, its intolerable tyranny…”[21]

     America remained a land of opportunity, even a dream, for many millions of immigrants; but in spite of the fresh beginning it granted to those immigrants, the passions of “Old Europe” – more exactly, of fallen humanity in general – remained endemic in the land of the free, while for the native Indians the dream of freedom very early on turned into a nightmare…

 

April 16/29, 2019.



[1]Whitney, in David Reynolds, America, Empire of Liberty, London: Penguin, 2010, pp. 171-­172.

[2] De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, New York: Fontana, 1968, vol. I, pp. 305-306.

[3] De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, in Barzun, op. cit., p. 538.

[4] De Tocqueville, On the Effects of Future Democratization, 1840.

[5] De Tocqueville,Democracy in America,op. cit., pp. 306-307.

[6] De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, op. cit., pp. 307-308.

[7] De Tocqueville, op. cit., pp. 309-310.

[8] De Tocqueville, op. cit., pp. 311- 313.I am guided by Alexis de Tocqueville,” writes Charles C. Camosy, “in my assessment of the course of liberal democracy, who observed that as democracy becomes ‘more itself,’ it becomes ‘less itself.’ Thus, the end station of democracy, according to Tocqueville, was despotism” (“Why Individualist Liberalism Wins, and the Catholic Side Loses”, Crux, December 19, 2017).

[9]De Tocqueville, op. cit.

[10] Revel, How Democracies Perish, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1985, pp. 13-15.

[11] Scruton, The Rest and the West, London: Continuum, 2002, pp. 47-49.

[12] The English revolutionary Tom Paine managed to cross it, but was very tepidly received.

[13] Thornton, “Partnering with Putin”, New American, November 20, 2015, http://www.thenewamerican.com/culture/history/item/21998-partnering-with-putin.

[14] Ferguson, Empire: How Britain made the Modern World, London: Penguin Books, 2003, p. 34.

[15] Kissinger, op. cit., pp. 235-237.

[16] Thornton, op. cit.

[17] “In 1836, the Republic of Texas came into being, having achieved independence from Mexico. It was subsequently recognized as a sovereign country by the United States and several European countries. In October 1845, a substantial majority of the citizens of Texas voted in favor of union with the United States. That union became official in February 1846. Unfortunately, there arose a dispute between the United States and Mexico as to the precise location of the western borders of Texas.

     “Texas had always claimed all of the territory as far south as the Rio Grande, while Mexico insisted that the borders of Texas extended no further south than the Nueces River, a difference involving a huge swath of territory. Both the United States and Mexico sent in troops. In April 1846, a large Mexican force ambushed and overwhelmed a small American force of about 80 men, killing 11, wounding six, and capturing the remainder. President Polk stated that Mexico had invaded American territory and shed American blood, and asked Congress to declare war, which it did. As a result of the American victory in that war, the United States gained not only Texas, but also the territory that is now California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, most of Colorado, and a small portion of Wyoming. For that, the United States paid Mexico $15 million (the equivalent today of nearly $500 million), and the United States agreed to assume the debts owed by Mexico to American citizens, amounting to $3.25 million (the equivalent today of about $88.6 million). Later, in 1854, Mexico agreed to sell what today is southern Arizona and a small slice of land in southwest New Mexico to the United States for $10 million (the equivalent today of about $260 million). The land was needed so that a transcontinental railroad could be constructed along a southern route that avoided mountainous terrain.” (Thornton, op. cit.) (V.M.)

[18] Kissinger, op. cit., pp. 240, 243-244.

[19] Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, London: Abacus, 1999, p. 305.

[20] Chomsky, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, London: Vintage, 2003, p. 135.

[21] Pushkin, Polnoe Sobranie Sochinenij (Complete Works),1949, vol. 12.

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