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Sunday, February 5, 2017


America's Ideologies

Coined in 1796 by the French philosopher Antoine Louis Claude, Comte  Destutt de Tracy (1754-1836), the word "ideology" was not in the lexicon of people who lived North America prior to 1776 and the writing of the Declaration of Independence.  Doubtless indigenous peoples, Africans, and Europeans of various complexions  possessed abstract  cultural and social ideas that pertain to what "ideology" signifies ----freedom, tyranny, law, thief,  justice,  corruption, morality,  domination, equality, patriotism, happiness, sovereignty, right, legality, and so forth. Concepts exist prior to our abusing them, or locking them up in cages of language.  Otherwise, we would be unable to speak about political economy and unfinished political histories.  Destutt  deTracy's Enlightenment neologism, replete with its emphasis on sensations,   is crucial for discovering what it means to be an American, although the robust tradition of condemning  or trivializing intellectual commerce prevails in the United States of America in 2017.  We are less than anxious to have American citizens dwell on knowledge of ideology. Contemporary education in the USA is "p-----whipped" by the hegemony of testing.  We are not hospitable to liberated thinking.

Our inhospitality has serious consequences.  For example, most  American voters had a superficial grasp of how ideology functions in segregating a Democracy from a Republic in the November 2016 elections. That factoid , the trumping of cold reason by hot emotion and the "legal tyranny" of the Electoral College secured the Presidency for a wode male.  Ignorance of ideology matters. We wouldn't be corrupting the young in America were we to do a better job of teaching them about the soil on which they walk or the ground where ideologies grow.

The real dirt about how ideologies come into being in the USA  is not highly publicized.  Few Americans know jack about the science of ideas that the aristocrat Destutt de Tracy constructed.  Strict construction, however,  does not authorize our confusing  what he had in mind with simple, history-impoverished  political theories. When we ask, "What does it mean to be an American?", I would suggest we have to ask quite embarrassing questions of histories.   How do we, who are not direct descendents of  indigenous peoples, live blissfully in territory that by virtue of  jus naturale (natural law) belongs to them?  How do we justify our criminality?

When we revisit  the hidden dimensions of the  American Revolution, the dirty laundry of genocide and enslavement begins to pile up.  Read the British humor in Nicholas Guyatt's Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation (New York: Basic Books, 2016) and the remarkable scholarship in  Robert G. Parkinson's The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016).  What is becoming known better and better now is that through the colonial  newspapers and broadsides and other printed materials, not only was the case being made for the rights of those people who resented blind loyalty  to the British Crown, but the case was made for them  to be independent in a very specious way.  To confirm their special independence that contradicted the  beautiful words  written in the second draft of the Declaration of Independence, meant that they had to diminish and reduce to derogation  other peoples, particularly so-called  Native Americans and Africans. They had to insist that those two populations did not and would not ever  deserve to be fully invested in the enterprise of liberation from what was called the tyranny of the king.

Indeed, using various arguments, especially those from what was known as natural history at the time, the founding mothers and fathers of the USA set those two populations  completely  outside the pale. This is very important in terms of what  Americans do need to know in the 21st century  about the origins of  America's odd ideologies ; about how we practice them in the ambiance of the America democratic experiment, post-capitalism, and intense globalization; about patriotic insanity as the ship of state drifts from democracy to fascism.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                            February 5, 2017

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