Existentialism Philosophy

American Existentialism Real or Fiction?

Were the French Existentialists correct in concluding that the "American character swaggered with confidence and naive optimism?" Sartre observed, "evil is not an American concept. There is no pessimism in America regarding human nature and social organization." Beauvoir chimed in that Americans had no "feeling for sin and for remorse." And Camus, thought Americans "lacked a sense of anguish about the problems of existence, authenticity and alienation." In Carlin Romano's book review of Existential America by George Cotkin, Mr. Romano argues "On the contrary, Cotkin shows in the bulk of his study, "the French missed certain darker and deeper elements in the history of the American mind and spirit." For Cotkin, the "very notion of America as bereft of anguish is absurd. Death and despair appear as much in the American collective consciousness as does the luck-and-pluck optimism of Horatio Alger's heroes".

The post war period was a time when the United States was the victor, savior of the world. The new global empire would be idealistic, benevolent and magnanimous. Naïve optimism might be over generous in describing that innocence. Sartre, de Beauvoir and Camus may not have been the chroniclers of a de Tocqueville, but de Tocqueville certainly would have understood the angst experienced in the creation of the great American experiment. The 1950's was an era of benign tranquility. The threat of a nuclear holocaust loomed, but the society refused to forego its self-assurance. The "good old days" truly were nostalgic bliss.

From the Village Voice, Richard Polt asserts that: "intellectual historian George Cotkin proves existentialism's relevance by showing that it was never just a fad; existential sensibilities run deep in our history. Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Camus, who all toured the United States after the war, saw only the country's exterior, its consumerist boosterism. But would it be so surprising if the land of the free were also the land of the searching, the anxious, the alienated? This is, after all, the country of Herman Melville and Edward Hopper."

Conversely, the overwhelming enthusiasm that supports the regimented 'PC' culture, economy and political system; often is immune to the underlying conflicts, intended exploitation and managed future. Over the last half century the accelerated demise of the land of the free has been transformed into the reservation of the oblivious. The awakening that took place during the 1960's suffered a relapse. The buoyancy of the civilization is not maintained with mere material progress. The test of true advancement lies in the consciousness of collective community. What was naïve before has become delusional today.

Christopher Luna's insightful comments on Existential America illustrates the sublime influence of distress in our search for authenticity. "The willingness of Kierkegaardian thinkers to wrestle with "paradox, irony, and tragedy" in the aftermath of World War II made the Danish philosopher's ideas very attractive to writers including Thornton Wilder and W.H. Auden, as well as the painters Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, for whom art was "a mythological and heroic 'act of defiance,' which opened the path to transcendence through engagement with the canvas and the unconscious." Kierkegaard's "mode of argument, positing two opposites," was also posthumously appropriated by Cold War proponents who demanded that Americans make a choice between "faith in God and faith in communism."

How ironic that the trust in country demonstrated in the 50's has digressed into a psychosis of support in a political matrix that has virtually adopted the traits of Communism, while crucifying the teaching of God. The clash of RealPolitick has the consequences of national demise under the banner of jingoistic tolerance. The formula for 'good citizenship' has been written by a crazed pharisee pharmacists operating under a government grant and filled with drugs that neutralize individual self-interest.

Luna asserts: "Existentialists argue for personal responsibility in the face of what Walter Kaufmann identified as the four elements of this philosophy: "dread, despair, death, and dauntlessness." He goes on to say that Cotkin shows there was an existential strain in American culture that preceded the afore mentioned French philosophers, "in the work of Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, and Edward Hopper, among others. Unlike their French counterparts, American intellectuals "refused to make a fetish out of nihilism"; instead, "anguish and despair" functioned as "goads to action and commitment."

The pragmatic character of American convention has a "can do" assurance that problems can be resolved. European annals have a long heritage of distrust for government, limits on upward mobility in society and brutality from continental hostilities. The anguish internalized from that history has not impacted the American culture to the same severity. Yet, who can deny that despair is enveloping our own post-millennia chaotic milieu? The emptiness of material excess, has not fully reached the pedestrians on Main Street. Nonetheless, the arrogance of unlimited hubris in the track for a global empire has hit deeply the practices of a demented Wall Street.

American Existentialism is a healthy tradition that needs to go mainstream. The fiction in the public psyche spins a yarn of communal unity when the reality of competing factions has no substantial commonality. The verity of control from the top down pervades every aspect of institutional behavior. Government maintains a monopoly on coercion as the means to herd the unruly into pens of docility. Where is the optimism when the fabulous fifties are but a blast from the past? It is not absurd to resist the juggernaut of servitude. Rational nihilism doesn't destroy fundamental values, morality or time honored principles. Positive nihilism acknowledges that eradication of existing failed political practices, the destruction of criminal government agencies and the elimination of fallacious imperialistic aspirations are necessary for real improvement.

Cotkin views the American experience as having an undercurrent of compelling anguish, which serves as a spur to commitment and onto action. If justice is a primary objective, the agony of enduring under an interdependent model of human conformity and material servitude necessitates the vision of existential rebellion. It is in the good and proper tradition of our heritage to correct a wrong, especially one that has gone so far a field of original intentions. There is nothing more noble than confronting despotism. Once you feel the pain of domestic anguish, the naïve will start to grow up.

The practical is an integral component in the legacy of our founding. The existential is also an essential element in knowing and understanding what is worthy of preserving and what must be purged. George Cotkin argues that an existential approach to life, marked by vexing despair and dauntless commitment in the face of uncertainty, has deep American roots and helps to define twentieth-century America in ways that we have not realized or appreciated. If you are unable to recognize national misery, your founding in historic independence is most lacking. Grasping that existentialism is a proud part of American tradition is a first step. Use this philosophy as a constructive means to change behavior and instill motivation towards action.

SARTRE - August 29, 2005

posted by SARTRE at 8/28/2005 |

cool, funny stuff.
EXECUTE AMERICAN TERRORISTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"No cause, no movement, and no grievance can justify the intentional killing of innocent civilians and non-combatants. This is unacceptable by any moral standard."

-- TERRORIST Condoleezza Rice, United States Secretary of State, carrying out the policies of the international war criminal and TERRORIST George W. Bush and the American people, 9/17/2005


Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in violence since the US-led invasion last year, according to public health experts who estimate there were 100,000 "excess deaths" in 18 months....

The US-based researchers found that the risk of death from violence in the period after the invasion was 58 times higher than before the war...

The rise in the death rate was mainly due to violence and much of it was caused by US air strikes on towns and cities, they said...

"Making conservative assumptions, we think that about 100,000 excess deaths or more have happened since the 2003 invasion of Iraq," said Les Roberts of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in a report published online by The Lancet medical journal...

"The use of air power in areas with lots of civilians appears to be killing a lot of women and children," Mr Roberts said...


I want to give testimony on what are called the "highways of death." These are the two Kuwaiti roadways, littered with remains of 2,000 mangled Iraqi military vehicles, and the charred and dismembered bodies of tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers, who were withdrawing from Kuwait on February 26th and 27th 1991 in compliance with UN resolutions...

U.S. planes trapped the long convoys by disabling vehicles in the front, and at the rear, and then pounded the resulting traffic jams for hours. "It was like shooting fish in a barrel," said one U.S. pilot. The horror is still there to see...

"Even in Vietnam I didn't see anything like this. It's pathetic," said Major Bob Nugent, an Army intelligence officer. This one-sided carnage, this racist mass murder of Arab people, occurred while White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater promised that the U.S. and its coalition partners would not attack Iraqi forces leaving Kuwait. This is surely one of the most heinous war crimes in contemporary history...


The My Lai massacre was a massacre by American soldiers of hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians, mostly women and children, on March 16, 1968, during the Vietnam War. Becoming a symbol of US-American war crimes in Vietnam, it prompted widespread outrage around the world and reduced public support for the war in the United States...


During World War II, for the official purpose of forcing the Japanese to surrender unconditionally, the United States military dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan on August 6 and August 9, 1945 respectively, killing at least 120,000 people, about 95 percent of which were civilian, outright, and around twice as many over time. These were the first and only nuclear attacks in history...


The bombing of Dresden by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) between February 13 and February 15, 1945 remains one of the most controversial events of World War II, even after 60 years...

Overall, Anglo-American bombing of German cities claimed around 400,000 civilian lives...

Critics of the attack come from across the political spectrum, from far left to far right. Günter Grass, the German novelist and Nobel laureate for literature, and Simon Jenkins, the former editor of The Times, have both referred to the Dresden bombing as a "war crime"...


"No cause, no movement, and no grievance can justify the intentional killing of innocent civilians and non-combatants. This is unacceptable by any moral standard."

-- TERRORIST Condoleezza Rice, United States Secretary of State, carrying out the policies of the international war criminal and TERRORIST George W. Bush and the American people, 9/17/2005

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