Manifest Destiny wasn’t anything especially new to me. America is evil and has done lots of evil, big surprise. The founding fathers created this nation on the genocidal extermination of one race and the enslavement of the other. Of course in order to massacre rape and pillage you need a justification for your actions. Hitler had “science” and we had the syncretic combination of Judeo-Christian/Greco-Roman ideology. This ideology justified and continues to justify a system of murder, racism and class exploitation.
Stephanson and most foreigners know the facts of American history. However, they might not get why the American elite do this. Of course there’s the clear material reason, it benefits them, but what about the silly ideological reasons. How do the elite get to sleep at night? How do the elite convince the regular folks to go along? How do the elite console the families of the white working class (and later working class people of color) as they die in imperialist misadventures? Well this syncretic ideology provided the answer.
What Stephanson puts his finger on, is the importance of ruling ideology in a society based on domination. Specifically, he elucidates what makes up our ruling ideology. Unlike other hegemonic ideas, the American ruling mystique has been extremely effective and has had extreme longevity. From our inception, America has remained a nation based on Lockean liberalism, Greco-Roman law, and Biblical morality. The elite have created a historical narrative that is simply unsurpassed in its ability to hypnotize the public.
I believe this is because, as Stepanson points out, we are both the New Rome and the New Israel. We inhabit a realm where both the material and spiritual good are offered for the same thing. Unlike typical Catholicism, which preaches acceptance of suffering in the interim in exchange for eternal heaven, the protestant Christianity of the US gave its followers dreams of material success in the now. In fact, this material success was a sign of blessing and, depending on the sect, often a sign of predestination for heaven. This protestant Christianity meshed well with the “Law and Order” ideology of the rational liberal thinkers of enlightenment America. Thus what we have is the creation of a perfect dualistic narrative, a spiritually fulfilling nation destined to become a city upon a hill, composed of complementary Christian and civic virtue.
This is enshrined in our government and social institutions. Government remains an area of Roman law and Athenian debate. We build our federal buildings like they were temples of reason, a clear homage to the ancients. A good example is the mall drinking game. Take a swig every time you see a colonnade. Yeah I think you get my point. Meanwhile we structure our social lives around our community, ie our faith. Americans remain the most religious people in any postindustrial society, primarily because we have few other outlets for community organization and expression. If you’re an atheist you have little choice but to go to a bar for company. So of course the general refrain to my mother about leaving that silly church of hers is that “all my friends and your sister’s friends are there.”
This combination of moral dogmatism and material determinism has created a vicious circle. One compliments and continues the other. If we try to overwhelm the rational and calculating nature of our republic with religious fanaticism, a combination of checks and balances and a loss of faith by Christians eventually restores the establishment clause. Indeed we see that today as the evangelical right is retreating back to the churchyard. After finding nothing but odious air in the halls of power they now want the purity of their silly little buildings. In the converse, as labor unions, social movements, and a general sense of rational thought provide an alternative to Jesus and coffee on Sunday, we see a resurgence of faith. Ever wonder why we have these periodic “Great Awakenings”?
Now what I really wonder is the future of this ideology. As the world globalizes, states are becoming very hollow things. As I’ve said in previous posts, corporations are now the prime movers and shakers of world policy. Nations like the US merely act as the enforcers of corporate policy. They do this via imperialist misadventures in certain oil bearing nations or through the backrooms of the IMF. Now while the Iraq war presented an example of material gain glossed over by spiritual jihad, it also may be the last of these truly American wars. America is no longer a land of plenty, nor is it a chosen land in the wilderness. We’re part of an interdependent web of progressively weakened states. What will happen to our protestant material genocidal impulse in an age of abject consumerism and worldwide communications? We must either pull a Heinlein and start colonizing the moon, or we need to find a technologically inferior alien race in the alpha centauri sector that we can wipe out. Otherwise I think the age of Manifest Destiny has come to something of a close. Well until those centaurans appear and coincidentally look like Native Americans.