Tuesday, January 24, 2012

America: The 'Hustler Civilization'

Kirkpatrick Sale wrote a masterful essay on this topic (e.g., 'this country has been about making and taking, a business culture with a commercial orientation, devoted to growth and power, wealth and property, private advancement and profit, militarism and materialism, expansion and empire') and on the 'alternative culture' to it manifested in 'a commitment to craft, community, the public good, the natural environment, spiritual practice, and the "simple life"' in his review of Morris Berman's book Why America Failed.

Regarding the South in particular, Mr Sale said:

And so the alternative culture, though it has always existed on the fringe, and still does even now, has never seriously derailed the steamengine of the hustler civilization nor in fact even slowed it down perceptively. In fact that civilization will always take steps to marginalize it, even destroy it if necessary, a fact that Berman illustrates in a chapter on the antebellum South. He shows how the South was "the one example we have of an opponent of [the dominant] ideology that had real political teeth," and blatantly opted for a life premodern (indeed "neofeudal"), agrarian, slow, conservative, and honoring tradition, honor, chivalry, and hospitality more than making a buck or inventing a gadget. This ultimately the increasingly industrial and expansive North could not stand and so began a war to destroy it. "The treatment of the South by the North," Berman says, "was the template for the way the United States would come to treat any nation it regarded as an enemy: not merely a scorched earth policy, but also a ‘scorched soul’ policy’" that it would use in Hawaii, the Philippines, Cuba, Japan, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and anywhere else it could achieve it.
In an age of cheap flattery of America's exceptionalism, it is more important than ever to listen to men like Mr Sale and Mr Berman.

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