Folk Alley Live Recording - Nora Jane Struthers (Folk Alliance 2012)
Killing the City Won’t Save the Small Town
1 hour ago
Rod Dreher has recently wondered whether the “Catholic moment” in American politics has passed. I’m among those who are skeptical that such a moment could ever have occurred: not only is this country quite liberal and individualistic, as Rod says, but its political structure at its core is Protestant. Catholic political theory has a hard time dealing with the American political system — despite a great many modern modifications, the Catholic Church’s fundamental understanding of how politics works was shaped by the practices of Christendom, by the existence of stable authorities who formally acknowledged the moral authority of the Church and who at least pretended to heed the Church’s teachings. The American public, by contrast, is not a stable authority — nor are the politicians who serially hold office — and neither the public nor the Constitution acknowledges the authority of the Church in anything except the fuzziest or most utilitarian terms. Presumably the mechanism by which a “Catholic moment” could be fulfilled would involve Catholic voters and sympathetic Protestants electing Christian politicians who would pass morally Christian legislation, while in the extra-political world Catholic-inclined minds would have great influence in the media and other outlets of civil society.
Perhaps the most interesting chapter in Why America Failed is the one on the American South. Berman argues that, notwithstanding the slavery and racism (which he abhors) that existed there, the Antebellum South with its agricultural economy and its traditional culture provided the only alternative to the dominant high-speed, high-stress, high-tech, imperialistic, industrial culture found elsewhere in the United States. Before the Civil War, the Rural South represented a communitarian alternative to the dehumanized, mass-production, mass-consumption, narcissistic lifestyle that was beginning to permeate most of the rest of America – an alternative to the politics of money, power, speed, greed, and progress. The Antebellum South discovered the joys of simple living long before simple living came back in vogue in the 1990s.
The real tragedy of the Civil War was that it was not possible to find an alternative way to end the scourge of slavery which did not result in the deaths of 625,000 individuals. It was a classic case of throwing out the baby (traditional culture) with the bath water (slavery). What was at stake in the Civil War was nothing less than the clash of two radically different civilizations according to Berman.
Throughout its history America has tried to “fix” traditional societies which it perceived to be obstacles to progress.
What the North did to the South is really the model of what America in general did and does to “backward” (i.e., traditional) societies, if it can. You wipe out almost the entire indigenous population of North America; you steal half of Mexico; you literally vaporize a large chunk of the Japanese population; you bomb Vietnam “back to the Stone Age” (in the words of Curtis LeMay); you “shock and awe” Iraqi civilians, and so on.
Berman’s chapter on the South is the most insightful piece I have ever read about the region where I spent over a half century of my life. It reads like a tragic Southern novel entitled What Might Have Been, But Could Never Be.
According to Berman the seeds of the Empire’s destruction were sewn in the sixteenth century by the early European settlers who were, above all, into “hustling” – looking out for number one. Ever since then, “hustling, materialism, and the pursuit of personal gain without regard for its effects on others” have provided the dominant theme of the American culture. He or she who dies with the most toys wins the game. Enough never seems to be quite enough.