July 18, 2021


Well, our previous thread investigated topics such as Pearl Harbor, the vaccine (pro and con), and whether Kamala Harris was a buffoonette. There was also an interesting discussion of the possible idealism of Jefferson et al., and whether the vaunted ideals of the early Republic were merely a cover for a deeper underlying ideal, namely hustling. In all of these crucial debates, Wafers displayed, as usual, brilliance of insight and subtlety of argument. I'm telling you guys, there is no blog like this blog. When I hear of people going to other blogs, I am filled with a great sadness. "Why?" I sometimes cry out loud.

In any case, I think we can all agree that the American empire is drifting, with no coherent purpose. Oswald Spengler, who wrote The Decline of the West a century ago, argued that every civilization was held together spiritually by a central, guiding Idea, in a Platonic sense, and that once that Idea became tarnished or unconvincing, the civilization was on its way out. In our case, the brief debate we had over America as bastion of democracy/freedom vs. America as world epicenter of hustling may be moot, in that "pursuit of happiness" effectively identified--or perhaps we should say conflated--democracy with the opportunity/freedom to amass wealth. A similar ambiguity would seem to be present in the Idea of the American Dream, American Way of Life, etc. In Trumpi we had (have) not merely the apotheosis of hustling, but in fact a full-scale assault on democracy, so we see where things finally wound up. But as Richard Bushman showed many years ago, in From Puritan to Yankee, the seeds of this were planted long ago, in the late 17th century, when the classic definition of virtue--putting the welfare of the community ahead of personal aggrandizement--got turned on its head. (Joyce Appleby makes the same point in Capitalism and a New Social Order, but incorrectly dates the shift to the time of Jefferson). We see this everywhere: Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors, for example, a self-described Marxist, turns out to own millions in real estate. She is hardly an anomaly: this is the essence of the American Dream, or Way of Life. Or so it would seem.

The problem is that if the Dream is really about personal aggrandizement, then the nation is doomed; it is perhaps the core reason that we are drifting, because what it really amounts to is that we have no guiding moral purpose. We drift because we have no rudder to guide us, or no compass, if you will. On an individual level, the cost is by now obvious: millions dying by suicide, alcohol, opioids, television, cell phones, and rioting at Wal-Mart sales. At the national level, it takes the form of the government not being able to say what our foreign policy consists of. Indeed, some (few) astute observers have suggested that we have no foreign policy to speak of. Inner and outer, microcosm and macrocosm, reflect each other. Or as Jefferson's contemporary, William Blake, declared,"Earth and all you behold: though it appears without, it is within."