The Second American Century – Part II
We are honored to present this exclusive article part II by Tsvi Bisk who is an independent Israeli/American Futurist, Social Researcher and Strategy Planning Consultant. For more articles and podcasts by Tsvi Bisk on Israelseen go to http://israelseen.com/category/tsvi-bisk/
Don’t Tell Me – Show Me!
Contrary to accepted wisdom, Americans are not anti-intellectual; they are simply non-deferential to intellectuals and grow annoyed by what William James would call intellectualist pretentions. Unlike France, intellectuals do not become social icons in the United States. Americans only turn anti-intellectual when they feel that intellectuals are condescendingly trying to tell them how to live their lives. American farmers, businesspeople and workers have the greatest respect for educated people who can show them better ways of doing things.
Ironically, this makes Americans more inherently scientific and less “theological” in their approach to knowledge. Claiming a PhD in Economics from Harvard as support for one’s argument is as much an appeal to authority as citing the rulings of the medieval Catholic Church. It is most likely to be met by the average American with a “so what?” and rightly so. “Show me” is the motto of the State of Missouri, but it could be the motto of the entire United States. Warren Buffet “shows us” what can be done and is more admired than myriads of Nobel Prize winning economists who “tell us” what should be done but have never created economic value (or jobs) in the market place.
This attitude has deep roots – all the way back to the colonial experience. The frontier enabled indentured servants to become “uppity” and leave their “employers”. The First Great Awakening challenged approved Christian theology and clerical status. American militia men were contemptuous of the obsequious manner of British soldiers towards their officers during The French and Indian War. The concept of respect towards “one’s betters” never gained much traction in the United States. Respect had to be earned. There developed an aristocracy of merit, of achievement by force of personality and presence tied to talent. “Duke” Snider and “Count” Basie are the direct descendents of “General” George Washington – who could never have risen above the rank of major in the British army.
Misgivings about authority is a non-partisan thread that runs throughout American history; from the New Left in the 60s to the Tea Party today. It is the secret to American invention and innovation. “We have always done it that way” is often met with a “so what?” “This is the way things are done” is often met with “sez who?” This uniquely American attitude to life has been sweeping across the globe since WWII, gaining velocity as it goes. It has changed the social and cultural attitudes of old Europe (heirs to the British throne can now marry commoners without causing a constitutional crisis). It contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union and has been the underlying mood of the so-called Arab Spring.
The Americanization of World Culture
America’s hard power has held the line against tyrants, but America’s soft power spread by popular culture is what has eroded autocracies and dictatorships from within and caused them to collapse. Hitler, Communists and the Iranian Mullahs have all feared the “subversive” effects of American popular culture. Hitler banned Jazz as “nigger-kike music” and the Iranians convene colloquiums entitled “Hollywood and Satanism”. Both Soviet and Maoist regimes railed against the decadence of American popular culture. The Beatles – that British derivative of American music – were so feared in the former USSR that having cassettes of their music was a felony. Much of the change in the world today can be traced, in part, to American popular culture, especially Hollywood movies and television. Popular culture is itself an American invention and has helped enable the spread some of the most sublime universal values across the globe.
The tremendous success of the TV sitcom All in the Family (Archie Bunker) gave birth to a spinoff centered on Black characters The Jeffersons. The success of The Jeffersons enabled producers to conceive of The Cosby Show (the experiences of a Black gynecologist with a mostly white clientele – consider the subtle subversive undermining of racism of that). This was followed by The Oprah Winfrey Show, which became the most trusted talk show in TV history. “I heard it on Oprah” became as authoritative as “I read it in the Encyclopedia Britannica.”
Would Barack Obama have been elected President of the United States if Cosby and Oprah had not prepared the American mind to accept educated Black people into their homes? Three American sitcoms and a talk show have done more to end racism, worldwide, than learned scholarship proving the scientific fallacy of racism.
Even the insipid American entertainment of the 50′s; the entertainment designed to drug the American public into a haze of satisfaction with their lot, presented an image of daily life for the common man that induced tremendous envy when seen elsewhere around the world. Polish intellectuals affirm that the frustration of the Polish people with communism was to a large extent driven by their ability to see (by satellite TV, another American invention) how people in the West lived.
The reconstruction of Europe after WWII was a triumph of American free market and constitutionalist principles. Economic Americanization had been taking place long before WWII. Renault and other European car makers had visited the States to learn and copy American methods of manufacture. In England, the founders of Marks & Spencer (M&S) visited the United States in the 1920s to study modern methods of retailing. Both these developments had social consequences. In Europe, following the precedent of Henry Ford, more and more middle and working class people could now afford automobiles. In England, the Marxist historian Goronwy Rees, claimed that M&S changed the dressing habits of working class women to such an extent that it actually helped erode the English class system. In his view, Simon Marks had greater social impact than Karl Marx.
Following WWII, first Japan and then the rest of Asia copied (and improved upon) American manufacturing systems. And consumers world over began mimicking American consumption habits – blue jeans, coca cola, pop music and all the rest.
The Second American Century
The 21st century will be the second American Century. The United States is not Rome. American civilization is a composite of three self-correcting systems: science, capitalism and constitutionalism. This is why any comparison to the Roman Empire in regards to the eventual fall of the American ‘Empire’ is nothing but superficial silliness. The Romans had NO self-correcting systems.
There are bad scientists and charlatan scientists, but science as an ongoing project eventually weeds out the bad and the charlatan. Capitalism has its thugs, its con artists and its criminally incompetent, as well as its honest failures, but capitalism as a system tends to adhere to Nietzsche’s maxim that “what does not kill you, makes you stronger”. In the past 200 years, capitalism has emerged from every crisis stronger than when it went in. Constitutional Democracy has its share of blowhard populist politicians and financially or ideologically corrupt judges, but it is the framework which enables the freedom necessary for scientific inquiry and capitalist enterprise. And history shows that over time it has constantly expanded and deepened constitutional rights and protections.
This three part self-correcting machine is the essence of the American system and has become the norm by which the entire globe is judged. Its ubiquitous standards are proof in themselves of The Triumph of America. In the late 1930′s, constitutional democracy was a minority system in the West. Russia was communist; Spain, Italy and many Eastern European countries were fascist, while Germany was Nazi and Japan was militaristic. The list of constitutionalist victories since World War II includes: the transformation of Japan and Germany from militarist to constitutionalist states, the growing rights of women, the European Union absorbing fascist Spain and Portugal and most of the former Soviet Communist satellites, the end of Apartheid in South Africa, the eclipse of military rule in most of Latin America, South Korea and Taiwan evolving from their fascistic origins into parliamentary democracies.
We see that American style constitutionalism and free markets defeated the three great totalitarian movements of the 20th century: Fascism, Soviet Communism, and Nazism. Constitutionalism and free markets work because they make peace with human imperfection; they abjure perfection and try to make things a little bit better.
Categorical certainty and the definite article (the problem, the solution) are the biggest enemies of clear thinking and civilized discourse which are the necessary elements of a society characterized by constitutionalism. Categorical certainty is the intellectual environment in which absolutist totalitarianism thrives. It is the antithesis of the American attitude to life which usually tries to “see the other fellow’s point of view”. “To each his own” and “everybody is entitled to their opinion” are quintessential American expressions that reflect a basic element in the American character.
The problem is that this attitude appears wimpy (middle class, middle aged, and boring) when confronting perfectionist ideologies with their forceful self-assurance and exciting visions of the future. But history shows that Marxism or any form of religious or secular perfectionism inevitably leads to totalitarianism.
The pretensions of Marxism to represent the concrete logic of history in opposition to the abstract formal logic of pre-Hegelian philosophy became, at its pinnacle, a performance of dialectic hairsplitting that would have embarrassed medieval scholastics. Constitutionalism, on the other hand—which was condemned by Marxists as a bourgeois abstraction defining abstract rights—was inherently designed to attune itself to the ever-changing human condition and thus has become the most manifest expression of concrete logic in human history; especially its American iteration.
It is an infantile Marxist argument to dismiss Constitutionalism because it was created by and for the bourgeoisie. While this is historically true, workers, women, different races and religions, used this ‘bourgeois’ invention of Constitutionalism to advance and enhance their own humanity. Should we say that, since the zero was invented by brown-skinned Hindus and given to Europe by Arab Muslims (both of whom used it for religious reasons), white-skinned secular Europeans should not use it? Just as the zero is a universal contribution of a particular culture to all of human civilization, so is Constitutionalism a universal contribution of a particular culture to all of human civilization. It has spread over the globe in the form of Americanization described above. Marxism ultimately failed in its confrontation with Constitutionalism because it was inflexible in its internal logic. Constitutionalism and free markets are the great modifiers of ongoing and constant change—thermostats which enables human will to modify and adapt. They are a necessity of social evolution.
Marxists, such as Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979), were greatly distressed by the very essence of Americanism—its ability to accommodate itself to new forces, interest, and groups. He condemned this as co-option. In his 1965 essay “Repressive Tolerance,” Marcuse argued that ideas contrary to (his concept of) progress should not be tolerated, and people espousing those ideas should be suppressed. He called liberal ideals of tolerance—such as freedom of expression—repressive because they give people the false idea that they are really free. In other words, for Marcuse and his ilk, the fact that relative justice can be achieved bloodlessly is evil because it obviates revolution. Instead of revolution to achieve justice, he called for the suppression of relative justice to set the stage for revolution. That Americanism had no trouble in shrugging off this silly position is no surprise. Its “repressive tolerance” of freedom of expression even allowed Marcuse to propagate his opinions.
How America will eventually defeat Jihadism relates to the religious history of the United States. The fact is that America changed Christianity and Judaism more than the so-called Judeo-Christian ethic molded America. Americanized Christianity and Judaism eventually impacted more on world Christendom and Judaism than world Christendom and Judaism impacted on America. The fact is that the American experience is currently changing American Islam much more than Islam is threatening America (despite the demagogic paranoia of impending Shariah law being imposed on America). Americanized Islam (this 21st century version of America’s soft power) is more likely to change world Islam than Jihadism is to conquer the West.
No civilization can thrive in an atmosphere of constantly declining self-esteem. If too many Americans begin to believe in theories of a declining America, then decline will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It will also tempt the enemies of western civilization to commit mischief. Recognizing the triumph of the American Idea will be an antidote to the current atmosphere of fear and pessimism that has become endemic in the United States in recent years. It will also thwart various forces of evil from overplaying their hand.
 Fried, Albert, Communism in America: A History in Documents (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), p. 7
 Orwell, George, “Inside the Whale”, A Collection of Essays (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1954), p. 222
 Niall Ferguson, “Decline and Fall: When the American Empire Goes, It Is Likely to Go Quickly,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2010
Kennedy, Paul, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (Vintage Books,1989)
 Heilbroner, Robert L., The Worldly Philosophers (Touchstone; revised 7th edition 1999), p. 14
 Pearce, Fred. The Coming Population Crash; Beacon Press, Boston 2010
Tsvi Bisk is an independent Israeli/American Futurist, Social Researcher and Strategy Planning Consultant. He has published over one hundred essays and articles in English and Hebrew. His most recent book The Optimistic Jew: a Positive Vision for the Jewish People in the 21st Century is available on Amazon.
Center for Strategic Futurist Thinking
Contributing Editor to The Futurist magazine
Regional Editor for Futuretakes magazine
TSVI BISK’S PUBLICATIONS
Articles & Essays (partial list)
- “The Future of Constitutionalism” in Strategies and Technologies for a Sustainable Future ed. Wagner, Cynthia G. an anthology published by The World Future Society, 2010
- “Optimistic Environmentalism: A Guide for the Responsible Educator” in Creating the School You Want ed. Shostak Arthur B. an anthology published by Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland 2010
- “Energy: The Grand Strategic Joint of the 21st Century” in Innovation and Creativity in a Complex World ed. Wagner, Cynthia G. an anthology published by the World Future Society, 2009
- “No Natural Resources? Lucky You! The Futurist (Sept./Oct 2009)
- “A Realistic Energy Strategy” The Futurist (March/April 2009)
- “Breaking Free: Energy Independence by 2020” The Futurist (Jan/Feb 2007)
- “The Future of Making a Living” in Tackling Tomorrow Today: America Moving Ahead (Vol.2) ed. Shostak Arthur B. an anthology published by Chelsea House, Philadelphia, 2004
- “Future Options for the Middle East: The Art of Practical Peacemaking” in Tackling Tomorrow Today: America Moving Ahead (Vol.2) ed. Shostak Arthur B., an anthology published by Chelsea House, Philadelphia, 2004
- “Iraq? – Yes and No!” in Making War Making Peace (Vol. Three) ed. Shostak Arthur B. an anthology published by Chelsea House, Philadelphia, 2004
- “Utopianism Comes of Age” in Viable Utopian Ideas ed. Shostak Arthur B. an anthology published by M.E. Sharp, Armonk, New York, 2003
- “The Women’s Century” (English and Hebrew), Israeli Knesset Library and Website (2003)
- “Towards a Practical Utopianism” The Futurist (May/June 2002)
- “Utopianism Comes of Age: from Post-Modernism to Neo-Modernism”, in Utopian Thinking in Sociology: Creating the Good Society, ed. Shostak Arthur B., an anthology published by American Sociological Association, Washington D.C., 2001
- “Judaism” in Encyclopedia of the Future, Editors: Kurian, George Thomas & Molitor, Graham T. – Simon and Schuster, Macmillan (1996)
- “Middle East” in Encyclopedia of the Future, Editors: Kurian, George Thomas & Molitor, Graham T. – Simon and Schuster, Macmillan (1996)
A more comprehensive list can be provided upon request
The Optimistic Jew: a Positive Vision for the Jewish People in the 21st Century (Maxanna Press, 2007) (English, Spanish and Russian editions)
Futurizing the Jews: Alternative Futures for Meaningful Jewish Existence in the 21st Century (Praeger Press, 2003