Saturday, November 03, 2018

Alastair Roberts making a comment in passing on the UK teetering on the possibility of no longer having a "blue water navy"

Immigration is definitely an important part of the American psyche, much like the Frontier. However, just like the Frontier, there are great dangers in allowing such symbols, myths, and principles to metastasize in a way that can end up proving destructive. The mindset produced by the Frontier has encouraged unhealthy forms of American expansionism, much as an unhealthy form of British identity was once forged upon the anvil of the Empire (and we are still boisterously singing about ruling the waves, even though we are teetering on the brink of ceasing to be a blue-water navy). Sometimes we need radically to reassess such things and move into new stages of national life.

Getting over the myths of historical immigration—and like the Frontier, American immigration has no shortage of self-aggrandizing myths—is a necessary part of maturation as a nation, of shedding certain of the pretensions of American exceptionalism. Emma Lazarus’s poetry is just another brand of flattering American exceptionalist fiction—the mother of an eschatological people, standing at the ‘sunset gates’ of the ‘golden door’, over against all of the ‘ancient lands’, laden down with their history. Much like the fiction that drove the Western expansion of the nation, it was never really strictly true and still isn’t. Any exploration of the history of America’s immigration and naturalization policies and its chequered record of assimilating and integrating people groups should make this amply apparent, but it does make a certain type of American feel proud.

Getting over some of the myths about the Frontier in American historical terms might involve coming to terms with the ways in which several of the more dubious myths about the American expansion into the West were consolidated and calcified by Hollywood through film in the mid-20th century, for instance.  Some of the American myths are of a relatively recent vintage.

And a few of the American myths are, I would suggest, merely appropriations or supplements to rule Brittania.  The idea that the United Kingdom and France were the good guys in World War I and then World War II because German colonial bids involved conquering white people instead of non-whites seems a bit much to ask. 

But the possibility that the UK will cease to be a "blue water navy" power has been a reminde rof a point I've been making for a few years at this blog, that Western European Atlanticist powers have been on a downward slide for a while and that American imperialism and colonialism allowed Europe to imagine it had a higher level of prestige than perhaps it really has.  The decline of Europe is not necessarily a decline of "culture" to an American or simply a non-European. 

American self-aggrandizement is pernicious ... but no more pernicious than British self-aggrandizement ever was or Chinese self-aggrandizement or German self-aggrandizement.  What makes American self-aggrandizement lame in its unique flavor is our capacity to use technology and mas media to sell our mythology faster and more relentlessly than others across the world.  Many a mythology has not had the benefit of technocratic distribution methods. 

The straightforward claim that Bill Clinton could ever represent "the left" would have seemed laughable to me twenty years ago even as a conservative and as a bit of a conservative willing to read leftists now (and even Marxists like Adorno) I find the idea that Bill Clinton represents any variant of "left" to be wildly implausible. 

Since half my lineage is Native American I would say as I've gone through life the unhealthy expansionist mentality necessarily preceded the mythologies that were used to rationalize it.  Mythologies do not necessarily precede the policies which they are used to justify, and mythologies that oppose those policies tend to follow suit in perpetuating a counter-mythology that may cloud rather than clarify.  I don't think, for instance, that Manifest Destiny is explicable as a result of some residual Calvinism from the Puritans.  Some of the staunchest advocates of Manifest Destiny were Catholic, of whom it would be hard to ever say that even American Catholics could be thought of as Calvinist, much as it would be hard to justify claiming that Methodists were particularly Calvinist. 

Nor, for that matter, should we even take American exceptionalism to even have to have manifest Manifest Destiny to be, so to speak, in the proverbial air that Americans have breathed. Take some correspondence from Asbury.
 We have not any extraordinary displays of the power of God. America is the young child of God and providence, set upon the lap, dandled upon the knees, pressed to the consolating breasts of mercies in ----. But we are not as thankful as we ought to be. The --- of the church I wish to make the cause of---. I stand in such a situation, and relation for the state of the ministry and people. I may have a thousand letters of information in a year, while swiftly moving through the continent every year. 

The time certainly is drawing near when universal peace shall bless the earth: when distracted Europe, superstitious Asia, blind Africa, and America shall more abundantly see the salvation of our God. Oh let us be much in prayer. [emphasis added]

I would say postmillenialism goes much further than Calvinist to explain how on earth a Methodist Episcopal minister could take such a sunny view of American destiny in the 1790s. 

If the United Kingdom stops being a blue water naval power the world probably will not be worse off for it.  If anything the full scope of the miserable legacy of Anglo-American imperialism might, a century or two on from now, be a central plank in a platform of global history.  That will hardly mean that whatever global political and military powers emerge in the wake of an American decline or the decline of European power (which I take as a given) will be in any way better. 

The demise of the British empire or Western Europe as a whole doesn't have to be something to only lament.  If the universal values of the Enlightenment as imagined by advocates for the Enlightenment are as truly universal and plain to Reason as we've been told then the wholesale demise of Europe in economic and military terms isn't really something to shed any tears about.  For that matter I don't feel all that bad that teh Native Americna practice of slavery in the pacific Northwest got phased out.  Sometimes losing a cultural legacy is a good thing.  It may be the case if Britain stops being a blue water naval power for all we know and don't know. 

I admit to being a bit cynical about British and European concerns about the legacy of American imperialism.  We didn't get our capacity for colonialism and imperialism from nowhere, after all.

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Cal of Chelcice said...
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