August 22, 2007
A polyglot Croatian scholar, Tomislav Sunic, provides in his newest book, Homo Americanus: Child of the Postmodern Age, reasons that a good European should distrust the US. These reasons are significantly different from those that one might encounter in the Euro-American leftist and mainstream press, e.g., that President Bush is a Christian maniac who is unleashing an anti-Muslim crusade against a Middle Eastern people or that Americans have taken an inexcusably long time to introduce homosexual marriage or, most ominously, that we treat illegals from across our Southern border with xenophobic brutality. Sunic gives the proper reasons that Europeans should despise us, namely, because we are hostile to European national identities, because we have contributed to bringing to Central Europe Frankfurt School brain-laundering and last but not least, because we try to substitute for concrete historical traditions such notions as propositional nationhood and the ideology of human rights. In his elaboration of these grievances Sunic is entirely on target, and the fact that he has had to publish his manuscript (as far as I can determine) with his own funds speaks volumes for the difficulty of publicizing non-orthodox views on certain subjects.
I also think that Sunic strikes the proper balance, and indeed far better than most of the European New Right, by stressing both the newness and antiquity of the American policies and attitudes under discussion. Instead of dumping on the Protestant, moralistic culture out of which America grew as a nation, Sunic believes that culture had its strengths before it became secularized and corrupted. It is what American religious culture became by the beginning of the last century which concerns him, as does the obvious contradiction between a territorially defined Europe of nations and a righteous global empire seeking to implement its conception of rights everywhere.
Contrary to the postwar conservative illusion that the US, unlike revolutionary France, embraced historic rights while rejecting the “rights of man,” Sunic shows Americans being as obsessed with universal rights as they are with consumer products. It is the combination of consumption and rights talk which has produced “homo americanus,” a constantly reproduced American prototype that by now, according to Sunic, is as easily identified as “homo sovieticus.” During the Cold War, Sunic and others living in the communist bloc began to think of the products of party indoctrination as having a recognizable character and appearance. It was postmodern and post-bourgeois, but for all of its ritualized revolutionary discourse this human type was profoundly conformist. Its presence, according to some critics, precluded the possibility of restoring human character as it had existed before, in pre-Marxist societies: as a result of longtime Communist control, one had to deal with flat, standardized personalities that might have been the worst byproduct of “scientific socialism.”
Sunic, who received his doctorate at University of California, Santa Barbara, and then taught at Juniata College in Pennsylvania before returning to Europe, believes that Americans fall into a similar pattern. As the creations of a self-proclaimed political experiment, whose subjects generally frown on the European past, Americans, and especially the younger generation, show a depressing sameness. But they mask this defect as individual self-discovery. They confuse the dreary recitation of politically correct gibberish with sensitivity that they think they have arrived at through their own value-clarification. A combination of materialism, superficiality and misplaced moral concern is the American gestalt that Sunic keeps coming back to. And he seems bothered by the fact that Europeans have begun to imitate this gestalt even while bewailing American influence. A foreword by Kevin MacDonald, known for his controversial arguments about the destructiveness of the Jewish impact on gentile society and culture, may unfairly bring Sunic flak. His own critique stays clear of anti-Jewish tirades and of the tasteless flattery of American Jews heard among some Christian Philosemites. Sunic properly focuses on why Europeans should deplore American conversionary politics, whose effects he carefully outlines. And with due respect to MacDonald, whose work I continue to find stimulating, he zeros in on the Protestant deformation, which may be far more important as an explanation for what Sunic criticizes than the Jewish war against gentile national identities. There is, by the way, one point raised in the introduction, and then in the text itself, which commands particular attention. In both places the observation is made that the politics of guilt may be imperialistic righteousness that the moral fanatic turns against himself, when he is not venting it on others. The point is well taken, and besides, it sounds like something the Frankfurt School and its American imitators might say about bourgeois Christians.