There have been numerous diverse epics written about America (the word ‘America’ in this publication is always used to indicate the United States). The swift rise of this ‘New World’, the enormous dimensions of this ‘Land of unlimited opportunity’ have fed people’s fancies the world over—and certainly not the least of these are those of the Americans themselves.
And yet, there is reason enough for regarding that which has been accomplished up to the present as merely belonging to the primal stage of development, a stage which James Truslow Adams1 describes as being of a decidedly quantitative nature and which, if the epic is to progress further in truly grand style, must now take on a qualitative aspect.
The accomplishments of this first phase which, in a certain sense, has already reached its climax, make a definite impression upon the newcomer to this country. However much, with the skepticism of the European, he may be able to establish and pass critical judgment upon the extreme manifestations of ‘Americanism’, his admiration remains unchanged for the strong, dynamic spirit which dominates the land and the people.
It was merely a few centuries ago that small groups of pioneers emigrated from Europe, driven partly by a religious and partly by an unconscious life-urge, to found the new society under the greatest dangers and hardships imaginable. The most important impulse in the sphere of spiritual activity was brought to the eastern shores of America by the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620. The small colony of Plymouth thus arose, continuously threatened by starvation and illness, not to mention the ever-present menace of Indian raids. Half of this little group of approximately 100 settlers died during their first winter.
A small English colony had already been founded somewhat earlier (1607) in what is now Virginia. A group of Dutchmen followed them and built a fort on the banks of the Hudson. Then came the Pilgrim Fathers and numerous other groups, so that, by 1630, there were about 7,000 Colonists living on the East coast. From then on, the population grew rapidly. In addition to the aforementioned East coast settlers, there was a group of Frenchmen in the North around the Great Lakes and further along the area around the Mississippi, as well as Spanish settlers who had penetrated into the areas of New Mexico, Texas and California.
Each of these three main groups had its own methods and its own style of colonization; their motives were also varied. Next to a deep longing for liberty and the will to free themselves from religious tyranny and suppression, there was, above all, the desire to escape from economic want and search for better living conditions. Among those who left for the New World were idealists as well as fanatics, pioneers as well as adventurers. There were many for whom the European countries had become too small, and life there too confined, as well as those for whom European soil had simply become too hot underfoot.
However important it may be to analyze the forces which have been at work here down through the centuries, it is first and foremost, necessary to ascertain how a mighty current of spiritual will has asserted itself, by and through which entire groups of people, for the most part unwittingly, have been seized. Kat Angelino (famous Dutch author) in his treatment of colonization during those centuries, coined the compound word ‘cosmic-energy’ in referring to this spiritual will. The questions in world history cannot be answered by merely paying attention to human qualities and human motives. Again and again, forces of a higher order intervene, influencing the development of the human race. And each awakening into a new phase of human consciousness is accompanied by a shifting of entire groups of people over the surface of the earth.
The world that was found by these first colonists was one of table-lands and mountain ridges, immense woods, colossal rivers, and lakes as large as entire countries. The native inhabitants who, here and there, were willing to give up their land and trade with the newcomers, but who also frequently assumed a hostile attitude, were on the whole regarded by the colonists as wild beasts. Their cruel warfare against the natives resulted in equally cruel counter-measures.
Whether or not these so-called savages really were more cruel than the Europeans themselves is a big question. Two world wars and all that Europe has seen in connection therewith certainly seems to urge critical self-reflection. A true expert on Indian affairs, John Collier2, speaks in a most positive manner about the different Iroquois tribes, for example, mentioning among other qualities, their sense of social cooperation and the ‘confederation’ which they had founded among five tribes as early as 1550 and which existed for two centuries. Collier also mentions many other good qualities. The European Puritans of those early days were certainly not the ones who possessed an open mind for customs and convictions entirely different from their own. They regarded the Indians as mere savages or, at best, objects fit only for conversion. One is constantly amazed to see how long this struggle against the Indians went on, although in ever-decreasing degree. Adams1 mentions, for instance, that the Sioux and the Nez-Percé tribes were still on the warpath at the time of his birth.
This is not the place for even a brief report on the history of the United States. Of common knowledge is the development of the colonies into separate states which, after a war for independence, gradually formed themselves into a whole. The ‘War between the States’ (Civil War) was the second great milestone along the way to unity.
Enormous numbers of emigrants had begun to move to the New World, which had a population of four million by the year 1790, thirteen million by 1830, fifty million by 1880 and more than 150 million by 1950. This population was composed principally of Germans, Irish, Italians and Poles besides the aforementioned French, English and Spanish people, but which also included those from all other parts of the world.
Great figures began to make their appearance in the midst of this ever-growing mass of people, giving form and meaning to its endeavors of a largely unbridled nature. National heroes, statesmen, philosophers and poets gave expression to the great ideals which unconsciously lived in the hearts of the many.
The appearance of Washington, D.C. is not dominated by the buildings of the Capitol and the White House alone, but also in large measure by the three monuments which rise up, one behind the other, out of surroundings of extensive parks and lawns. A tall slim obelisk has been erected to George Washington, often giving rise to a comparison between it and the impeccable character of the man for whom it stands. However much veneration has been accorded this great statesman, his person as such has no intimate ties with the essential character of the American people. His estate, Mount Vernon, beautifully situated on the banks of the Potomac just outside Washington, is a place which Americans love to visit, and where one can experience the sober-minded, practical genius as well as the breadth of outlook of this great statesman.
The second monument was erected to Thomas Jefferson. It is composed of a marble dome, supported by a number of pillars in the middle of which one finds the standing figure of Jefferson. The spirit of the creator of the Declaration of Independence indeed could not have been better expressed than through representing him as an upright column, surrounded by a series of the same.
It is, however, by the third monument, dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, that one is most deeply impressed. Whoever walks up the great marble staircase leading into the rectangular, temple-like structure, and suddenly finds himself standing opposite the colossal image of the elderly Lincoln, seated at ease in his sculptured chair, is able to see, by standing there on the spot, how the essence of the American spirit here has been given a marble image. The many visitors who continuously stream in and out, Americans as well as non-Americans, are always deeply impressed by the nobility of spirit and the vast goodness which emanates from Abraham Lincoln’s image. Here in this place, no matter how full it may be at times, reigns a spirit of devotion.
Let us not forget the name of Walt Whitman, the American bard whose glowing poetry is dear to the hearts of many, and that of Emerson, ingenious philosopher and idealist, whose numerous essays and lectures voice a strong and cheerful optimism.
The persons here cited, however, are merely a few among the many who have exerted such strong influence upon the developmental process of the American people during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Next to all that which was created under the influence of these and other spiritual impulses, the energies and powers of the new people itself now appeared in the foreground. No sooner had the industrial age put in its appearance than did the will to explore, to create, to build and construct, give rise to tremendous building projects, enormous skyscrapers, factory complexes, bridges and extensive railways. Growing ever larger and more powerful, America developed itself into the country which not only had to be taken note of by Europe but which, after its having intervened in two world wars, was soon to take over the leadership, not only of European political and economic affairs, but those of the Far East as well.
The American way of life, the energies of the American people, became ever more concentrated upon the satisfaction of external needs. Technology was put into use in the entire life of both individual and society as a whole and gradually became the dominant factor in both public and domestic activities and, finally, put in its appearance in the fields of art and recreation as well. The use of film and radio spread far more rapidly here than in Europe, and it has at present almost become a matter of course to own a television set—naturally, on the installment plan.
Whether or not America should really be so pleased about its Americanism has hereby become a question of vital importance.
Is it really justifiable here to refer to a ‘people’? The Americans are certainly not a `people’ in the same sense as are the English, the French or the Dutch. The study of what one calls the American people is one of the most interesting tasks known to the folk psychologist. It is not at all difficult to enumerate the very many typical characteristics of the American, although the presence of definite distinctions and contrasts is undeniable. One encounters a different type of person in Texas than in New England, in California than in the mid-West or the more southerly situated Mississippi area. Discrepancies within a people as a whole can, of course, be established in any other country as well. Despite such discrepancies, in this case, among the American people, a definite American character, prevalent throughout the entire United States, is clearly discernible. Yet, these Americans, some of them more recently, some of them less recently, have all been Englishmen, Frenchmen, Italians, etc. Dorothy Thompson’s witty response to the question ”What is an American?” was given as follows:3
”An American is a fellow whose grandfather was a German ‘forty-eighter’, who settled in Wisconsin and married a Swede, whose mother’s father married an Englishwoman, whose son met a girl at college, whose mother was an Australian and whose father was a Hungarian Jew and their son in the 20th century right now is six feet tall, goes to a state college, plays football, can’t speak a word of any known language except American and is doubtful whether he ever had a grandfather.”
The question of how a new ‘people’ arises from out of such old cultural ties is not an easy one to answer. There is at present a strong tendency to refuse to recognize a people as being an entity within themselves, so to speak, with a particular psychological structure peculiar to none other than their own. This same school of thought maintains that it is the conditions under which a given people live and develop that are responsible for the entire sum of properties characteristic to them. Such writers as Hamilton Fyfe4 even go so far as to completely deny the existence of something like national character, claiming that all peoples display the same human—often too human—qualities, and that certain particular reactions make themselves manifest only in definite given situations, in particular those of a propagandist nature. The examples which he has chosen to defend his standpoint all appear quite convincing at first sight, but one quickly realizes that they are all derived from situations in which a people reacts en masse. In evaluating these and similar standpoints, one must keep in mind that one is no longer in the field of folk psychology (ethnology), but in that of mass psychology. The latter, although not unrelated to the former, is essentially an entirely different matter.
Folk psychology is still a young science, about which little that is truly worthy of the name has been produced. Older folk psychologists, such as Moritz Lazarus, have pointed out that a ‘people’ must be studied from three different viewpoints. There is, first of all, the Anthropological-Ethnological aspect, which concerns itself with external physical-corporeal factors, as well as the geological, geographical and climatological circumstances under which a people grows and develops —in short, the study of the physical being of man in his external surroundings. The second viewpoint is the Psychological one, having to do with the inner life of the soul, its actions and reactions, the manner in which it makes its observations and forms its ideas and concepts, its sensitivity to emotion, its forces and impulses of the will, as well as the relationship of the entire sum of these properties of the soul to each other and to their external environment. The third aspect is of a Historical nature, a study of the ups and downs of the growth and development of a people as a whole, always in connection with the psychological character of the people in question, as well as the circumstances under which it lives and those of the peoples with which it enters into association. Lazarus regards it as being self-evident that one take the concept of history in its broadest sense, even pursuing its roots to their mythological source. Thus, through studying the ideals and the spiritual stimuli at work within a given people, one can form an idea of the true nature of its national spirit, of the genius of the people in question.
The more modern research workers have, for the most part, abandoned this threefold concept of body, soul, and spirit. Under the influence of a historical-materialistic way of thinking, they limit themselves almost entirely to an evaluation of outward circumstances and environment; the national character, or ‘folk-soul’ to use the Germanic term, ‘a truly existent reality’ coined by the German philosopher, Eduard von Hartmann, is hereby cut out of the picture. In the works of Salvador de Madariaga5 and Andre Siegfried6, one finds a truly serious endeavor to reach a satisfactory concept of the folk-soul. But the viewpoints of Rudolf Steiner7 on this subject reach profound depths. For him, the concepts of folk-soul and folk-spirit are spiritual qualities of hierarchic supremacy.
The factors of environment and living circumstances are undoubtedly of great importance in the formation and development of a people. In examining these and similar factors, however, one must, at the same time, not neglect to check the degree and manner in which the environment has been influenced by man himself, the extent to which he has formed and transformed his environment and to which he has thus also become the creator of his own circumstances. One of the most interesting examples with regard to man’s influence upon his environment is that of the Dutch people, a large part of whose country—including practically the entire western section—has literally been created through the efforts of the people themselves.
Again and again, one can establish the occurrence of like phenomena in America. If California seems like a paradise on earth to European eyes, it is not only because of the many sunny days and its ideal position along the Pacific, but also because of its sumptuous vegetation made possible by the extensive and elaborate measures which have been taken to conquer the desert through artificial irrigation. Both Holland and California must continually deal with the water problem, but in reverse order: for the Dutch, the problem is, ”how do we keep it out?”, while the big issue for the Californians is, ”how do we get it in?”
America and Americanism