18. Progress in Civilization

18.5 The Rise of the United States of America

In Autumn 1620, a small congregation of hundred and two persecuted English Puritan militants boarded the Mayflower for the shores of an inhospitable country, where ninety nine landed on 16 December. Only 50 of the immigrants survived the first year following their settlement (fig.18.7). Contrary to Spanish and Portuguese settlers, for whom the will of the prince was supreme, the Englishmen wanted to escape the rule of the prince. They were determined to live under the rule of law, and the Pilgrims drew up a Compact wherein they formed a “civil body politic” and promised “obedience to just and equal laws”.

Afbeelding 18

Figure 18.7. landing of the “Pilgrim Fathers” by Plymouth, New England, in 1620.

They had settled in that forbidding part of the New World which the Spaniards had scorned because it had nothing to offer, yet, three hundred years later, they became the masters of the world while the former dominant civilizations, Spain, Islam, France, have lost their superb. None of these has, up till today, asked the reason for its decline.

To pay for the Seven Years War (1756-1763) and rebuild the country, England introduced the “British Stamp Act” in 1765 and the “Townsend Revenue Act” in 1767, which taxed the American colonies. In 1773 the “British Tea Tax” also directly affected the American colonies. This preferential taxation was fully justified to assure to the colonies protection and administration but was ill received because of “No taxation without representation” and also the desire of the colonists to have no part in the vicissitudes of European politics. They had left England because persecuted. The imposition of the tea tax led to the proclamation of independence in 1776, militarily aided by France (Lafayette). The ensuing war lasted until 1781, Britain fighting not only the United States but also France, Spain, and the Netherlands. The financial loss increased further the misery of the English labor when Napoleon opened hostilities.

That the concept of Free Man, master of his own government, is still flourishing today is due to the fact that it were the English who colonized North America. This was by no means initially evident: North America might have been for its largest part colonized by Spaniards, Frenchmen and Russians 2. D. Landes attributes the development of the USA to its English artisan residents in possession of their tools and their trade, having a practical knowledge and impregnated of a spirit of enterprise unequaled on earth.

A second chance was the abundant presence of coal in the Appalachians, which sustained the industrial development of the country. The discovery of oil by Colonel Drake at Titusville in Western Pennsylvania reinforced the potential pre-eminence of the country. Finally, the great Western plains developed in American consciousness the spirit of the egalitarian and free Nomad who rebelled against the Stuart rule. All this coincided to give to the views of Hildebrand, introduced by William into Anglo-Saxon and Norman consciousness, the possibility to flourish.

The US was the first republic established on the concept of sovereign people in secured borders. The men who created this plebeian democracy were practicing statesmen, not pedantic theorists. The American Revolution was not the installation of a utopian popular laic Republic as in France in 1789 but was essentially conservative. Its leaders were thinking of preserving and securing the freedom they already enjoyed. “Experience must be our only guide, reason may mislead us’ said John Dickinson at the federal Convention. The US Declaration of Independence (1776) stated “Governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. Compare this lyrics with the drab French principle of government: “Nobody is supposed to ignore the law “ (Nul n’est censé ignorer la loi). The liberty of adhesion was respected. Since its incipience, the US never indulged in a dictatorship. Few European countries may pride in a similar feat. Its political leaders, unsophisticated according to European standards, are successful men of action not encumbered by the ratiocinations that paralyze the calculating, greedy and devious minds of their European homologues.

The rise of the US is essentially due to greed, avidity, incompetence, ideological stupidity and corruption of the leadership of competing nations. It was considerably helped internally by a spirit of practical science and technology fostered by democracy, that favored progress. Tocqueville devoted a chapter of his “Democracy in America” (1835) to the subject: “Why Americans Prefer the Practice Rather than the Theory of Science”. According to him, democracy wants results. He observed that in a democratic society, shortcuts to wealth, labor-saving gadgets and inventions which add to the comfort or pleasure of life “seem the most magnificent effort of human intelligence”. According to Tocqueville, almost all the great and fruitful scientific ideas were hatched in Europe but the widest applications of them, to common life and destruction in war, were made in America. Tocqueville was a Frenchman, biased and blinded by his education. American scientists are in no way adverse to theoretical considerations. What Tocqueville failed to see is that the elites of the country do not consider progresses in science and technology menaces to their dominant position, do not in a systematic way favor large state-controlled enterprises and protect them against competition, and they favor private practical applications of inventions instead of opposing them, as happens in Europe. In due time, the scientist and entrepreneur occupied a position in American society analogous to that of the medicine man among the Europeans. It resulted in the rise of the US and its ally the UK, to the status of sole superpower of the world.

The continued expansion of the role of governments in Europe reduces the field of individual initiative, prevents the development of thoughtful and altruistic people and eventually produces infantile adults who expect the State to feed and care for them from birth to death. Initiative, ambition, thrift and intelligence are reduced by European governments to nil. This mediocrity was fostered by an abuse of dialectic, by a formalist and juridical exposition of the moral rules and by simplistic educative methods where appreciation of the Good and the Bad is reinforced by abuses of intimidation and idealization. The product of these educational methods, extended to an ever-increasing mass, is a mediocrity that lost the sustaining vigor of the instinct, that violates nothing by being nothing and which is a blessing for States where emphasis is put on good children who become good citizens, good parents, good wage-earners and obedient servants. Toynbee estimates this mass at about 90% of any population. He calls the remaining 10% the creative minority. In directorial regimes, the creative minority is bound to be repressed. The amorphous and sterile mass of parasites is the most ardent defender of status quo, of legalism, of virtue, of good manners. It is in this flock that are recruited the servants of the Flag, of Race, of Religion, of Science, of Order 3.


2. S.E. Morison: The Oxford History of the American People. New York Oxford University Press 1965

3. E. Mounier: Traité du Caractère. Editions du Seuil, 1947

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