Book Review: Homo Americanus – Child of the Postmodern Age by Tomislav Sunic
HAVING endured life under communist and liberal-capitalist regimes in both Croatia and the United States respectively, Tom Sunic is particularly well-qualified to address the serious problem of postmodern America and to examine the hard-line theocracy that lies at the very core of its current geopolitical impetus. The author is renowned both for his honesty and for his penetrating insight, and this – similar to his previous literary offerings – represents a perfect blend of empirical and intellectual wisdom. However, this is not simply the latest in a series of gratuitous Eurocentric attacks on the American people themselves; it is a scathing indictment of their system and the wider implications it has for the rest of the world. More importantly, Sunic argues that the nostalgic America of the past had, and still retains, the creativity and potential to become a positive driving force for those inhabitants of European extraction.
It is no great secret that Europe has also fallen victim to Americanism and “often appears unnerving to American visitors in Europe in search of an elusive ‘true’ Frenchman, German or a Dutchman.” (p.5) So this book is also written from the perspective of Homo Americanus himself, avoiding the usual stereotypes with which some of the more unthinking critics here in Europe tend to chip away at the American edifice. The book’s working postulate looks at Homo Americanus as “a distinct sociobiological specie and not only a derogatory label for an average American citizen” (p.8), regardless of his social or geographical status. This useful form of terminology allows Sunic to dissect, examine and formulate American development over the last 200 years.
The author, who is a former Croatian diplomat and Professor at the University of California, spends a great deal of time explaining why critics of America’s egalitarian values are likely to incur the wrath of the U.S. system. Opponents of these values are denounced as ‘fascists’ and ‘anti-Semites’, or portrayed as ‘anti-American’ heretics. Sunic has been a victim of this narrow-mindedness himself, although the fact that he is no longer resident in America or working for the Croatian government does, at least, mean that he is at slightly more liberty to criticise the intellectual hypocrisy of the international thought police. The rabid vilification of those who dare to stand outside of the liberal parameters, Sunic explains, is being perpetuated by intellectuals who not only cut their teeth in the leftist environs of the Frankfurt School, but who also represent a secularised version of early American Calvinism. In fact the theocratic roots of America are much to blame for the millenarian fervour that now drives the free-market economy and its army of docile consumers. In fact modern American racialists are criticised for failing to appreciate that “[w]hile they bewail the passing of the white race, they fail to critically examine the foundations of Americanism . . . Why should one worry about the passing of the great white race if that race has only been involved in endless economic transactions?” (p.23)
America’s role in the Cold War is also examined, although the relationship between Homo Americanus and Homo Sovieticus is shown to have been far less antagonistic than most people think. Sunic does contend that, without America, “the Soviet Union would likely have become a reality for most people on earth” (p.29) and that the masses much prefer American consumerism to life under the Soviets themselves. However, whilst anti-communist rhetoric is often solely obsessed with the ‘atheistic’ nature of communism, it remains a fact that both systems share the same egalitarian undercurrent and that no attempt is made to examine the dynamics of this relationship. Sunic goes on to speculate that communism – as a direct result of its egalitarianism – has to a large extent managed to achieve its ends through the American system. It is already a well-known fact that after the collapse of communism, many former party apparatniks in Eastern Europe eagerly pinned their colours to the new liberal mast, but the author capably demonstrates that a similar form of intellectual and ideological duplicity has taken place in the West: “A large number of American left-leaning intellectuals seriously began to think that ‘true’ communism could have a second chance with a humane face in America, and this by means of employing different forms of social engineering. Some European authors observed that communism died in the East because it has already been implemented in the West.” (p.34) It is not uncommon, of course, for rats to leave a sinking ship and to redirect their energies elsewhere. We see this opportunistic trend happening in the economic sphere, too, as Big Business conglomerates continue to transfer their business operations to China and the Third World. But lest you doubt the author’s theory concerning the gradual importation or transference of Communist principles to America, we need only remind ourselves that the egalitarian ideals of Thomas Jefferson and other formulative American leaders were – as writers like Noam Chomsky and Lawrence R. Brown openly contend – a radical and pronounced form of leftism. The seeds, therefore, had already been sown at the very beginning of American history.
One of the more successful weapons in the struggle for liberal ascendancy has been political correctness. The kind of terminological double-speak that we so often hear emanating from the mass media, particularly during the Anglo-American attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan, had previously been developed for the purposes of self-policing, censorship and social engineering. Sunic rightly attributes the early origins of political correctness to the Frankfurt School, which, as the name suggests, was a German-based think-tank headed mainly by Jewish intellectuals who had fled to America during the rise of Hitler. At the end of World War Two, however, these individuals returned to Germany and the Frankfurt School was then used by America to essentially brainwash the next generation of young Germans. Sunic explains: “Most of the American educators, however, were former disciples of Freud and Marx, who considered that the best approach in curing defeated Germany was by treating Germans as a nation of ‘clinical patients’ in need of a hefty dose of liberal and socialist therapy.” (p.66) The clandestine book-burning and shelf-clearing that followed, however, was designed to function as an intellectual tabula rasa for the subsequent re-education of the German people themselves. After more than 60 years the witch-hunts are still going on, of course, with nationalists and revisionists alike facing the wrath of the modern German system. But more importantly, perhaps, the kind of political persecution that was first hatched on the drawing boards of the Frankfurt School, soon found their way into America. There may not be as much overt repression in the United States as there has been among those who laboured under Soviet communism or who suffered the spiteful tribulations of post-war Germany, but the same objectives are being pursued: “The entire West, including America itself, has become a victim of collective guilt which, strangely enough, is induced more by intellectual self-denial and by Christian-inspired atonement, and less by State repression.” (p.73)
Chapter IV is the most illuminating and revealing section of the book, particularly for those American readers who often find it hard to look at themselves objectively and particularly in the way that they are viewed by outsiders. Despite the fact that the political and religious realms are kept entirely separate in public life, Christian fundamentalism is still a potent force in modern-day America and Sunic gets to grips with the country’s seemingly inextricable Calvinist origins. This potency is reflected in the attitude that Americans express, not merely with regard to one another, but also towards the rest of the world: “Foreigners, by contrast, and particularly Europeans, immediately notice in American behaviour strong pedagogical outbursts which they wrongly interpret as camouflage for capitalist hypocrisy (p.87) . . . It is often formulated in petty sentimentalism, passing pep talks, gigantic fake smiles, verbiage teeming with bombastic adjectives, and a vicarious ‘love thy neighbour attitude’, always accompanied by a strong desire for social conviviality.” (p.89) The arrogant and patronising morality so often associated with the vast majority of Americans is the direct result of Protestant influence among the New England settlers of the seventeenth-century; something which, in turn, was transported directly from the dogmatic horror show that was Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan England. Sunic, by way of Werner Sombart, demonstrates how Christianity has acted as the perfect impetus for American universalism, not least because the traditional values of Calvinism, which are stringently linear and progressivist in nature, are so very similar to Judaism. This proliferation of the Jewish spirit through Christian fundamentalism, which, as Carl Schmitt also believed, has since become secularised but certainly no less formidable, has caused many people to attribute blame to the Jews themselves. However, Sunic notes that Jewish power in America is not simply down to the Jews, it has also been aided and abetted by those philo-Semites who have swallowed Jewish theocracy hook, line and sinker. In other words, the Calvinist tradition, with its so-called ‘work ethic’ and universalistic mores, matches precisely the mercantile framework in which cosmopolitan Jewish capitalists have managed to ascend the gilded throne of opulence, or, as the author puts it, “America became a Jewish substitute utopia . . . This multi-racial social engineering was facilitated by the ecumenical and globalistic framework of the early American Puritans – who had considered themselves as spiritual Jews.” (p.99) American racialists who retain their Christian roots also come in for some flak: [R]egardless whether they are hypermoralistic Puritans or more authority prone Catholics, [they] are in no position to found an ethnically and racially all-white Gentile society while adhering at the same time to the Christian dogma of pan-racial universalism.” (p.101) Sunic believes this conflict of interests will result in some form of neurosis, because despite his hatred for Jews, the American anti-Semite “lugs behind himself a Levantine deity that is not of European cultural origin.” (p.104)
The alternative, of course, as other New Right figures such as Alain de Benoist have advocated, is some form of pagan revival. But Sunic is careful to point out that “the rejection of monotheism does not imply a return to the worship of Indo-European deities or the veneration of some exotic gods and goddesses. It means forging another civilisation, or rather, a modernised version of scientific and cultural Hellenism, considered once as a common receptacle for all European peoples.” (p.106) On the other hand, Oswald Spengler’s ‘second religiosity’ – which may be interpreted as an ineffectual escape from reality – is cited as one example of how not to proceed, particularly as its modern legacy is epitomised by the multifarious cults that swamp the face of America but which completely fail to have any unified political or cultural impact. Sunic concludes his assault upon the theocratic foundations of America by stating emphatically that “the Western world did not begin with the birth of Christ or in America. Neither did the religions of ancient Europeans see the first light of day with Moses – in the desert . . . America’s Greco-Roman-Nordic ancestors also believed in honour, justice, and virtue, although they attached to those notions a radically different meaning.” (p.114)
Now that he has addressed the origins of Americanism, the author turns his mind to the dissemination of those ideals overseas. Beginning with the Monroe Doctrine in 1917, which, if you know your history, was rather a curious year to launch such a profoundly egalitarian statement, Sunic takes us into the murky world of American geopolitics. But whilst the relationship between America and the Israelis appears to make no sense whatsoever to the average American taxpayer, let alone the rest of the world, once you recall the Calvinist roots of those now at the helm it becomes easier to grasp why America is so disastrously committed to the eradication of its Islamic enemies from the face of the earth. Samuel Huntingdon’s ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis appeared to pre-empt the cataclysmic attack on New York in September 2001, but as far as the author is concerned “the scope of his analyses and predictions about Americanism are far behind the probity of the German jurist Carl Schmitt or the expert on geopolitics Karl Haushofer.” (p.140)
Postmodernism, at least from the perspective of those who oppose it, has been discussed on several occasions, one of the best examples appearing in Michael O’Meara’s well-researched New Culture, New Right: Anti-Liberalism in Postmodern Europe (1stBooks, 2004). Similarly, Sunic devotes a whole chapter to this crucial topic and tells us that “postmodernity reflects an intellectual climate in which preceding political paradigms are meant to be discarded on the grounds of their allegedly outdated nature.” (p.143) In fact, just like the denizens of the Frankfurt School, postmodern theorists are derived from Freudian and Marxist circles. This fact demonstrates the validity of the author’s earlier theory concerning the ideological ‘conversion’ that many of academia’s key players seem to go undergo and reminds me somewhat of the cultural and intellectual ‘seeding’ process discussed by Ernst Scott in The People of the Secret (Octagon Press, 1983). According to these postmodern shapers of reality, “[i]ntellectual history has finally come to an end and everything must be replaced by micro-histories and consensual truth from all parts of the world, including all lifestyles imaginable.” (p.145) However, despite what appears to represent an increase in individual freedom and expression, the old egalitarian myths still cannot be questioned and therefore the Calvinist-inspired dogma and economic progressivism still lurk in the background; “postmodernity is a historical oxymoron, a buzzword which neatly covers up intellectual mendacity.” (p.145) Ironically, perhaps, much postmodern rhetoric is infused with the language of Nietzsche and Heidegger, although once again, this is a smokescreen for the Orwellian double-speak that masks the more nefarious objectives of its shadowy progenitors. Sunic, like Gilles Lipovetsky before him, believes that a more appropriate term for this development is ‘hypermodernity’: “Postmodernity is hypermodernity insofar as the means of communication render all political signs disfigured and out of proportion.” (p.150) In other words, committed efforts by postmodernists to assign to an innumerable amount of discourses and lifestyles their own peculiar validities – however surreal – now means that everything has become ‘memorialised’; hence the term ‘postmodern’ and its relation to ‘hypermodernism’.
But once again, certain matters are not open to scrutiny and postmodern discourse is highly-selective and there to ensure that only certain things are retained for posterity: “First comes the American virtual icon, most likely by means of a movie, a TV show, or a computer game; then the masses start using this imagery in the implementation of their own local reality. It is the media projection of hyper-real America which serves from now on as the best propaganda weapon for the American dream.” (p.152) This manifests itself through narcissistic behaviour and a fear of the unpredictable. Whilst America is infatuated with its own contrived image, the effects of this fragile state of unreality on the general population have led to widespread anxiety and health problems. Indeed, “given that Americanism, at least in the eyes of its non-American imitators, functions solely as a make-believe system, i.e. as a hyper-copy of its own projected and embellished self” (p.154), surely it won’t be too long before the whole artificial structure begins to collapse completely?
The author then counteracts this frighteningly realistic image with his own heady dose of optimism, referring us instead to great American cultural icons like Henry Miller, H.L. Mencken, Ezra Pound and Francis Parker Yockey. He contrasts nostalgia and reality, arguing that one’s memories can often be unexpectedly shattered by an unpleasant experience in a place that once held a sense of great personal significance. At the same time, Sunic asks “Is not the dream of having another geographic alternative at hand the only way to make human life bearable?” (p.161) He is suggesting, of course, that another America still exists in the memory, and that it is still possible to make it a reality once again. This, he claims, can be achieved by using postmodernity “as a launching pad for diverse forms of Euro-American-nationalism, including the rebirth of a new European-inspired American political elite . . . No one can rule out that European-Americans will cordon themselves off into their own well-guarded racial reserves.” (p.166) The anti-egalitarianism of Nietzsche, meanwhile, is posited as a potential saviour from the Puritanical dogma of hypermodernism, and the author goes on to suggest that whilst Americanism has been derided, no serious attempt has been made to seize the cultural initiative. I would argue that this is slowly beginning to change, not least as a result of the impending marriage between the ‘Industrial’ music underground, self-styled National-Anarchists and sections of the New Right. All it takes is for this current to be tilted in the right direction; one spark of organisational brilliance and the future will be ours.
Sunic’s optimism continues with a brief look at postmodern agrarianism and American scholars like George Fitzhugh and Richard Weaver. But whilst these figures are undeniably part of the hidden America, they are perhaps a little out of place in an otherwise radical work such as this. Indeed, when used in this context they represent little more than an appeal to the kind of nostalgic Paleoconservative mindset that one finds in the pages of Chronicles magazine .
The parting shot, however, is reserved for American democracy and the author takes an elitist position by rightly conceding that the masses are not interested in traditional American ideas. He also explains that egalitarian, multi-racial societies are doomed and that the consequences will inevitably plunge America into balkanisation and civil strife. Furthermore, “as the American system becomes more and more economically opulent, even the slightest economic crisis, resulting in a small drop in living standards is bound to cause social discord and political upheavals.” (p.188)
Tom Sunic’s classic American hero can be found in the celluloid beauty of a Spaghetti Western, or perhaps among the characters of a Jack London novel. Finally, let it be said that his excellent book represents a final chance for Homo Americanus to redeem himself. Let’s hope he does so before it’s too late.