Existentialism Philosophy

Democracy and the American Hero

Published by the Clairmont Institute, an essay by Thomas S. Engeman - Why The American "Frontier" Will Always Be Populated By Democratic, Christian Knights - deals with a historic theme within the American experience. The perspective of the hero within our culture has influenced more than the motion picture genre. The hero has long been considered a model for aspiration and conduct. How one defines such inclinations, shapes actions for admirable behavior and forms a popular cultural view of human possibilities.

Those attitudes vary over time, but the essence of a universal human nature remains constant. Conflicts arise as society searches for purpose and meaning. Engeman cites a prominent historian Richard Slotnick: "Liberals, following in the footsteps of Hobbes and Kant, believe the celebration of the hero in popular culture encourages actual violence in the nation's homes and streets, while fostering our incessant foreign military adventures. Moreover, in the liberal view, action movies disguise the dirty roots of actual social and political conflict, while teaching fascist opinions: racism, sexism, blind obedience to authority, and the superiority of force to the rule of law".

The criteria that collective liberalism employs for assessing behavior, is quite different from classical liberalism. The American hero is venerated as the spirit of the nation by modern day classical liberals; namely, conservatives who understand the anthology of the human condition. Contrast this viewpoint with the orientation of the socialist, who claims to be a progressive and defender of the downtrodden.

Popular culture; unfortunately, sets the tone. Scholarly and rational decisions are rarely the standard that moves the masses. However, it would be a mistake to conclude that elitism in any of its manifestations is preferable to a genuine populism. When Walt Whitman's Democratic Vistas is referenced, the assertion is that there is a necessity of a heroic literature for a great society. "It is not generally realized, but it is true, as the genius of Greece, and all the sociology, personality, politics, and religion of those wonderful states, resided in their literature or aesthetics, that what was afterwards the main support of European chivalry, the feudal, ecclesiastical, dynastic world over there - forming its osseous structure, holding it together for hundreds, thousands of years, preserving its flesh and bloom, giving it form, decision, rounding it out, and so saturating it in the conscious and unconscious blood, breed, belief, and intuition of men, that it still prevails powerful to this day, in defiance of the mighty changes of time - was its literature, permeating to the very marrow, especially that major part, its enchanting songs, ballads, and poems".

The premise that it is a sound objective - aspiring to greatness - has more to do with explaining the reasons for failed social and political policies, than any blame of the cowboy hero. Noble motivation is not synonymous with altruism. The second fallacy is that democracy is consistent with, and best suited to achieve meritorious ends. Majority preferred accomplishments rarely are marked by moral conduct. Frankly, the assumptions of what constitutes an authentic achievement has been so perverted by the progressive social engineers, that the term liberal deserves ubiquitous disdain for corrupting the concept of fairness and justice.

The popularity of the anti-hero is also distorted. Simply opposing the establishment doesn't make one a rebel. Knowing the nature of what comprises that hierarchy, seldom is examined, while maintaining a false supposition that blames the ills of life upon the traditional protagonist. Character counts. If the cowboy is a knight, his realm is the frontier. The notion that mysticism underpins the stoic solitude of the pioneer, escapes the constricted pretension of the disingenuous compassionate Fabian. Ridicule and snobbery are traits that the limousine liberal crowd have perfected. They excel at producing, directing and marketing their version of the dauntless anti-hero. However, their ideals are usually martyrs or victims.

Populism may share democratic principles, but it does not operate by plurality vote. Insistence that democracy is best and must be broadened to engulf all remaining savage tribes, has caused more misery than any celluloid reflection of reality. Paladin was a white knight wearing black duds. Have Gun Will Travel imparted a moral message.

Mr Engeman's conclusion: "America presents a curious paradox. The nation derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, and its purpose or end, from the defense of liberty: beginning with the right to self-preservation. But in the real world, the United States continually encounters "frontiers" contested by enemies of democracy. On these "frontiers," or ever-new states of nature, the peaceful process of law proves unavailing, and democratic society appears unable to renew and preserve itself".

His first mistake is that he presupposes that consent can be achieved through popular engagement in the regular political process. But his biggest error is to confuse that liberty is achievable, when the general culture is so diverse and embedded with adverse and opposing viewpoints.

He ends with T.S. Elliot's critique of modern "high culture" as a wasteland that resulted from the intellectual attempt to create a new, anti-aristocratic culture based on scientific truths about nature and man . . . But by the end of the century, intellectual opinion had abandoned scientific ideology for postmodern anti-rationalism.

Clashing with this social relativism, is the virtuous defender of traditional values. Surely, democracy won't restore his morality culture, nor will the freedom of the misguided guarantee the liberty of the individual. The veritable hero is the sheriff who keeps the peace and ignores enforcing destructive laws. Most of society is unable to make this distinction. The frontier is not a place, but is a state of mind. America has a proud heritage, but a feeble memory. The test for greatness is not determined by power of reach, but resides in the respect for each individual. Union at any cost is wrong. Fences can be the best protection from an open range of Social Darwinism. Populism means individual responsibility tempered with limited governance. That is our heritage, time to start living it.

SARTRE - November 6, 2003

posted by SARTRE at 11/06/2003 |

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