The title of Fred Allen’s 1955 autobiography could just as easily describe the state of our nation today. Over the past fifty years, Americans have lost connection with the historical and cultural narrative that had previously united us e pluribus unum.
There are any number of reasons for this, from a gospel of consumption preached daily to a media-created, self-perpetuating “Me Generation”, to a destabilizing propensity for “celebrating diversity” with its accompanying moral relativism, to a general historical ignorance born of an educational movement that emphasized globally-focused social studies at the expense of traditional American history and values.
The by-product of all this is a nation of homeless wanderers looking for a place or cause to which they can belong. Absent that, we face the world as individuals, alone. Our previous national narrative, that of an American Dream offered to a nation of immigrants, of hard work and deferred gratification to benefit one’s progeny, a belief in American exceptionalism, a social fabric centered on family, church, and community, of individual responsibility, is no longer operative. In its place we have what author Joseph Roth (in his work Radetsky’s March) described as “the bewildering meaninglessness that follows the disillusion of an ideal.” Like the Hapsburg Empire which Roth eulogized, the United States has been an amalgam of different peoples held together by an ideal. Unless we can reestablish a sense of common purpose and shared values our future is no more assured than was that of the Hapsburgs one hundred years ago.
Currently, our national discourse is dominated largely by “Progressive” voices that declaim our former unifying narrative as a politically incorrect product of dead white male oppressors, and the Tea Party, which seems to want to drive America into the future while limiting our vision to what can be seen in the rear-view mirror. Both roads lead nowhere fast.
We had better figure it all out soon. History is littered with examples of great nations and empires that rotted away from within. If we stay our current course, don’t be surprised to see the kind of social disruptions recently visited on the Middle East and the U.K. coming soon to a city near you. The egocentric nihilism of contemporary American culture virtually guarantees it.
Anyone care to propose ways in which we can turn this situation around?