Superhuman as American national myth

13.01.2016

The focus of this article will not center on Nietzsche. His understanding of the Superhuman maybe interesting and attractive, but it should be factored out when considering the American society and the links within his ideas, including those related to the political sphere. It is possible to draw some parallels and identify compliance or even the genealogy of certain ideas, yet we must remember one thing that was clearly expressed by conservative philosophy scholar and friend of Leo Strauss and Alexandre Kojève, Allan Bloom: in the case of the Americans, despite the richness of the cultural and political environment, the concept goes back to Nietzsche (a characteristic example is the place and inappropriate use of the word "charisma"). Their interpretation and original perception is far from adequate as it’s too superficial.

Philosophically and ideologically, European and American consciousness greatly varies, leading to the simulation of the understanding of European authors like Nietzsche. Therefore, the American superman, an anthropological figure, whose influence is felt not only in the US but also elsewhere in the world, we must turn not to the European authors, but directly to the reality of American society, its history and mythological structure.

American Monomyth

I would like to emphasize the last bit. The mythological structure of American society, its basic matrix, must be uncovered to form the correct approach to American modern politics. Contemporary Sociology of Imagination, represented by French author Gilbert Durand, establishes a fundamental macro approach to the analysis of contemporary society through the prism of mythological figures. In other words, this sociology of imagination examines rational structures of human activity through the prism of myth, interpreting the rational through the irrational. Unconscious structures of imagination engender different features that create specific world cultures, styles and ways of thought, and therefore politics in different civilizations.

In this regard, to understand American society we need to refer to two interesting works by American sociologists Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence, "The Myth of the American superhero" and " Captain America and the crusade against evil: the dilemma of zealous nationalism." These authors argue that despite the statements received, including from some representatives of psychological science, American consciousness is purely rational and lacking a mythological dimension. However, such a representation is fundamentally untrue. A powerful mythological complex that makes it impossible to understand America without referring to them controls American society and the consciousness of most Americans. Based on numerous studies of political doctrines, speeches and writings of American politicians and philosophers, writers and public figures since the time of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and up to George Bush and folk tales, literary works, films, cartoons, video and computer games, the authors make the following conclusion: the myth of superman, a superhero is key, if not the backbone of the American imagination. The political doctrines, as well as American popular culture are different forms of its incarnations.

The authors use the term "monomyth", first used by Joseph Campbell, another American author, for the correct description of the American myth of the superhero. According to Campbell, monomyth represents a common template of a broad category of tales where a hero is involved in an adventure, has a decisive crisis, but at the end comes home changed and victorious.

Jewett and Lawrence contrapose classic monomyth, as American monomyth is understood by Campbell. In the classic Monomyth, examples of which may be the myth of Aeneas, or "Odyssey", widespread in many cultures, the myth of the killing of a dragon by a hero, a man falls out of the normal cycle of life, suffering deprivation. They may take a test or perform a heroic act, after which, one way or another, they are reintegrated into society. Very often, as we can see it in fairy tales all over the world, wedding or gaining power symbolizes this reintegration.

Such a return is the attainment of full human status, which is why Campbell correlated such monomyth with the idea of initiation, the purpose of which is becoming a human and the legitimate member of a tribe in an archaic society. The American monomyth, although similar to the classic, is essentially different. Its main feature is the absence of the final reintegration. The superhero is always external to the community, alone, saving the world countless times; he remains short of gaining features of a deity.

Protestant roots

That American monomyth is nothing but a secularized version of the Protestant eschatological myth. A continuous chain may be traced that starts with the Bible and ends with Superman, the story of which to non-Americans in some of its elements may seem like a parody of the Gospel. The main elements of this myth are a crisis of society, the figure of a savior, the fight against evil and the restoration of "paradise" proportions. It is the myth of Eden, the lost paradise, the Savior and salvation. The superhero is only one of the elements of the myth, its functional figure, but not a self-sufficient person; he is a key element, but not the only one.

Moreover, in earlier versions of the myth, with his incarnation into the cultural and political fields at the beginning of the XIX century, a superhero, his personality, both separate and distinct, could be highly blurred. Much more attention was paid to other elements of the eschatological myth.

Typical for American monomyth, the superhero, despite his estranged nature, though lonely, acts solely in the public interest. There is not a hint of withdrawal and nihilistic Nietzschean individualism. Thus the myth of salvation manifested in the individualistic and non-individualistic forms in the activities of the people and political institutions, and within political institutions, works in concepts and key figures of the most notorious and most irreconcilable conformists and nonconformist.

Triumph of Monomyth

Structurally, the role of the same element in constant deployment and circulation of myth is played by George W. Bush, "Unabomber", heroes of "Turner Diaries" heroes of westerns, Superman, Captain America, Terminator II, Abraham Lincoln, Mickey Mouse, George Washington, Rambo, Timothy McVeigh, the organizer of the terrorist attack in Oklahoma City in 1995, Walker, Texas Ranger and others. Within the institution of the presidency and specific presidents from Washington, Lincoln and Obama are thought of as the personification of the myth. Their irreconcilable opponents, from Lincoln’s assassin (Booth) to the already mentioned McVeigh, also operate under the same superhero pattern that is seriously influenced by both the private intentions of the people and the whole strategy-shaped American culture. [6] Today the characters in the Oregon standoff behave as people typically driven by American Monomyth.

The myth of superman and superheroes in general is crucial for any direction in US politics, or any version of political positioning. It essentially is a basic element of the American political tradition and wider society as a whole. It is based on a strong sense of individuality, which at the same time is connected to the outer world through the form of a mission. Lone individual acts for the public good, and the paradoxical and difficult sometimes tense relations between the will for absolute freedom and the necessity for public and communal lie in the core of American politics. America, even on the world stage, acts in the same way as a lone hero of a liberal civilization misunderstood by the rest of the world.

Lets look at two examples of Americans and their versions of the American Monomyth, and how this idea strongly influenced the world in which we live.

Superhero President

The first is the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. One of the first books about the superhero "Virginian" was dedicated to him. He was also a friend of another "superhero", the famous Buffalo Bill. The life and habits of Theodore Roosevelt, hunter, warrior, explorer, allow us to consider him as a structurally similar figure.

Theodore Roosevelt was an ardent proponent of active US interventionism, one of Admiral Mahan’s friends, who actively developed the Navy. He made giant steps in creating American Sea Power, making a significant contribution to the rise of American hegemony. All of this was promoted under the banner of a certain ideology and ideological system in which the main concept was the idea of overcoming and transgression being the meaning of life. In a speech in Chicago in April 1899, entitled " The Strenuous Life," Theodore Roosevelt stated the ideal of a hard and dangerous life, a life aimed at a conscious overcoming of all possible obstacles. Whoever does not live such a life drags out a meaningless existence, claimed the next president. In addition, Roosevelt easily carried superhuman proportions and demanded a separate identity for the American nation as a whole, claiming it as a kind of collective superman who must live dangerously. The pop culture version of such a transition will be the future image of the Captain-America.

Roosevelt depicted the nascent US imperialism in superhuman colors. Such superhuman ideology directly instigated his appearance, claiming the ideals of the rule of the strong and the subordination of weak nations. It is interesting that the idea of Americans as a nation of supermen has emerged simultaneously with American geopolitics, becoming an integral part of its foreign policy in such a way at the very moment American geopolitics was born and the United States had begun to recognize itself as a maritime power.

The British idea of Imperial Social Darwinism has some Nietzsche influence, and even para-religious self representation as the chosen people was not entirely American (see for example British Israelism), but on American soil this European idea found the unconscious soil for creating the pretext for world expansion.

American geopolitics is inseparable from this particular superhuman dimension, whether explicitly or implicitly expressed by specific authors and politicians. Dominate or perish; Roosevelt proposed such a dilemma and America chose the way superhuman hard life, standing on the path to becoming a stronger state of the planet.

Interestingly, Georges Sorel drew direct parallels between Nietzscheism and the ideas of Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie, paying attention to Roosevelt's desire to turn Americans into a race of predators and conquerors.

Untolerant "objectivism"

There is one more "superhuman figure", which seriously affected the ideology of the modern American political class. Her books are annually sold more than half a million copies, totaling 25 million. We are talking about our former compatriot, the creator of the ultra individualistic current in philosophy known as objectivism. The whole world knows her under the name of Ayn Rand, but she was raised as Alisa Rosenbaum. Among those readers who publicly acknowledged her influence on the formation of their views were Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan. She also attracted the sympathies of Ludwig von Mises. For Hillary Clinton, Rand is "an example to follow."

In her main work "Atlas Shrugged," Rand describes a "strike of the capitalists", who refuse to live by the laws of socialists, and, as a result, leave the world. This leads to the collapse of civilization, showing people who create business ventures just want to hold the world on their shoulders.

Peter Schwartz, chairman of the Ayn Rand Institute, defined the contribution of his patron to the development of American civilization by saying that Ayn Rand gave people the fundamental philosophy of life, a philosophy based on reason. This philosophy teaches each person that they have the moral right to not live for others, but for the sake of their own happiness.

Rand, in trying to establish her direction in philosophy, which she called "objectivism", was immediately criticized by the majority of professional philosophers. This did not stop this trend from gaining popularity in the United States and in some outer places of the world.
Here are the basic principles of objectivism:
• The Mind is the only instrument of knowledge and the only guide to action.
• The main task of human life is to seek personal happiness without sacrificing themselves for the sake of others, whilst not requiring sacrifices from others.
• Capitalism is the highest achievement of mankind, and free enterprise is the basis of universal happiness and prosperity.
• The only task of the state is to ensure the inviolability of private property and individual rights. Everything else is the usurpation of power.
• Religion, God, altruism, collectivism, self-sacrifice, selfless service, mysticism and intuition are the worst enemies of a free man, and are immoral obstacles to a better future and progress. [10]

• The main engine of progress is not a writer, artist, philosopher, poet, or businessman. They're the greatest sufferers of the modern era.

Most Europeans who encounter objectivism are shocked by its egoistic stupidity and simplicity. More shocking is the kind of “philosophy” created by Jewish immigrants from Russia that conquers the hearts of Americans. This egoistic way of thought exploits the great American Monomyth, depriving it of a communitarist dimension.

Communitarian version of the American Monomyth

This version of American Monomyth, which worships capitalism and moral egoism, is not the only one. It is important to understand that this myth can appear in different guises. Initially, it was not so ultra-individualistic as American Society was not at the time the US emerged. The author of the book "The Myth of American Individualism: The Protestant Origins of American Political Thought", Barry Alan Shain, showed that at the time of the Declaration of Independence, the North American colonies were dominated by the communitarian relationship model between man and society, where a public good was a primary concern. Only since the 19th century did this liberal trend that spread downwards from the highly educated and attached to the European values of elites, starting the struggle for dominance in the public consciousness. This trend was opposed to the old model, also known as communal or Calvinist, but it never fully displaced the community pattern, especially in the American heartland.

That is why the US is not only the country where the spreading of Rand’s ideas amongst the financial and industrial elite became ultra-popular, but also the place where opposing ideas were spread that were embodied in communitarian concepts and in early American populism. The most prominent representation of this trend in American politics throughout the XX century is Christopher Lash, who brought together the social critique of capitalism and the ideologies of liberalism and traditional American conservatism, which gave capitalist plutocracy the protection of traditional family and community values, and criticism of progress and progressivist ideology.

Pop-Fascism

Basic monomyth precedes its communitarian as well as individualistic embodiment, especially since they often do not appear in pure form, superimposed in each case on each other in different ways. This individualistic version is strong because it is a product of a highly differentiated elite that has managed to consolidate itself as a convenient capitalist elite-written narrative, beginning with the "Federalist Papers", which is the basic text for the understanding of currently dominant American political thought, while the communitarian version is purposely elaborated.

An important role is played by pop culture, in which the myth of the superman appears in the most vivid and colorful forms. Lawrence and Jewett named a cultural strategy for the transmission and consolidation of certain type of the US Monomyth "credotainment", combining concepts of credo and entertainment. These authors emphasized the danger of fascism of pop culture, pop associated with the use of mythological patterns that govern the American consciousness, "a complex of Captain America," fascism, which can also be an option to deploy the myth of the superhero. Recent famous American geopoliticians have exploited this way. An example is the recent work by Colin S. Gray "The sheriff: America's defense of the new world order. " Neoconservative writer Robert Kaplan in his book “Empirial grunts” compares the US military stationed in different parts of the globe with the brave conquerors of the Wild West.

The paradigm of violence

A "city on a hill" designed to bring light to the world, which became the center of military power; the United States gets itself more actively involved in new wars. Under these conditions, an understanding of mythological model, which stands for a very rational and prudent project, is extremely important in geopolitical assessment of the events that are taking place before our eyes. This attitude of Americans to the war is described as a "mystic of violence", naturally arising from the underlying code of American culture of the Old Testament, and is closely associated with the American Monomyth [16]. Interestingly, well-known sociologist C. Wright Mills reveals a similar attitude to the world as a whole, as one of the braces uniting the US ruling class.