American Kulturpessimismus

Ahh, Kulturpessimismus, or "Cultural Pessimism." Sweeping, grandly-formulated, apodictic condemnations of modernity, computers, biotechnology, nuclear weapons, television, America, or (not so very long ago) "World Judaism" — whatever the intellectual took to be the latest unmistakable sign of humanity’s impending doom. No pragmatic solutions on offer, of course, because how can there be a pragmatic solution for "world-pain" or "sickness of the soul"?

There’s nothing really like this in American discourse (which many people take to be a good thing). Or is there? I give you an essay called The Fall of Modernity, which, in tone and theme, reads like the sort of thing that appears in German Feuilletons every week, from every conceivable political direction.

This example, however, comes from American Conservative Magazine (of all places –or predictably?) and it was written by Michael Vlahos, a defense intellectual. His prognosis for American ambitions: critical. A sample:

America’s destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan mobilized the Muslim world against us, but more than that it put the global other on notice. For much of the West and most of Islam, the lie of modernity as American altruism is dying in Iraq. Americans care about the death of their soldiers but barely a whit for the destruction of a society wrought in the name of “democracy.”

Our future now veers wildly from the Cold War’s end, when our sacred narrative touched fulfillment. We thought we were moments from finishing the Lord’s work. Now the Lord’s work is killing Islamists.

A great nation continues to marshal its collective power, but it will face a changed world. There will still be grand nations like China, India, and others. The United States survives, in material terms greater than ever. But its war narrative has helped to birth a changed world and to cast off its claim to the universal. There will also be a weltering of new human combinations and re-combinations.

2 thoughts on “American Kulturpessimismus

  1. >…how can there be a pragmatic solution for “world-pain” or “sickness of the soul”?

    One way is to recognize that aggression causes both. Whether it’s predictable or not, it’s nice to see a conservative say this war was and is a mistake.

    Isn’t admitting “defeat” the pragmatic solution that Vlahos offers Americans? If conservative Americans (and now also the liberals in congress) can do that, America may have a chance to rebuild an identity that isn’t based on a ‘sacred myth’ of “power”. A sense of power, and the drive to attain it, leads to agression; power is a delusion, at both individual and societal levels.

    You have to imagine peace first, as John Lennon sang, and then you have to do something… like refuse to fight (doh!)… and of course, refuse to vote for individuals who think their intolerant belief system confers G-D’s power on their decisions. (Funny how both Hitler and Dubya fit this description, hmmm.)

    You can’t call someone evil, and then try to kill them in their own house, and still believe you are not evil yourself.

    Like

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