Spend time in a small business that has stood the test of time and you will learn the origin myths of the company and the founders. These myths will have plenty of truth content, but a lot will be fanciful or exaggerated. One reason is the story is inevitably told by the founder or his heirs, so it is self-serving. Another reason is the story is intended to give meaning and purpose to the people in the company. For an origin myth to work, it has to be inspirational and reflect well on the people in the organization.
People always have origin myths, of course. The most famous of which is the story of the Jews. The whole chosen people business is obvious nonsense. The flight from Egypt is at least plausible in some areas, but unless you’re willing to accept that God is an indiscriminate child killer, it’s a story that only Jews can believe. Still, the origin myth of the Jews has served them well for a very long time. These stories are central to Jewish identity and it is that strong identity that has allowed Jews to prosper.
If a strong set of origin myths correlates to a strong sense of identity and a strong people, then the reverse is probably true. The lack of origin myths, or a declining interest in the origin myths, probably suggests a weak identity. Perhaps the people have yet to come to identify themselves as a people or they are going through some sort of transition in terms of how they see themselves. The old myths no longer work, because they don’t fit the emerging narrative to explain how it is this people came to be.
This longish post in Foreign Affairs by popular historian Jill Lepore is an interesting read for a number of reason, not related to this post. The endless name dropping that torments writing in the humanities is a topic of its own. That’s mingled with self-promotion, in the form of references to the author’s books. Of course, anything to do with American history has to have a few paragraphs of the usual blather about slavery and Jim Crow. That said, it is worth the time to read it and the related posts on the site.
Lepore is one of those useful bellwethers in that she tends to write what the intellectual side of the ruling class is thinking. A big part of being a popular academic is to be in good standing with the ruling elite. They like being told about their wonderfulness from academics, so flattery is a big part of the game. That offers a window into the minds of the people who rule over us. What posts like this suggest is the people in charge are concerned with the fracturing they see from their position in the clouds.
That fracturing is predictable. Peter Brimelow predicted it two decades ago. Import tens of millions of strangers with strange customs into America and you’re going to get conflicts between the locals and the newcomers. The fact that these strangers were imported to replace the natives, who were not consuming and reproducing at levels satisfactory to the rulers, certainly did not help. Add in the rise of identity politics as a way to control the population and the result was predictable. Pat Buchanan predicted this.
Lepore is correct that people need a narrative that binds them together and explains why it is they are a people. America had an obvious one until the Civil War. When New England conquered the rest of the nation, the national story ended and was replaced by that new story that put New England at the top, as the ruler of the rest. That held together into the middle of last century, when Jews updated the tale to insinuate themselves into the story and explain their new dominance in the ruling class.
That American narrative worked until the people in charge decided they needed a new people and flung open the gates to unlimited immigration. A fascinating bit in that Lepore article is that she starts her essay in 1986 with the historian Carl Degler and his warning about the abandonment of nationalism. That talk would have happened around the time the ruling class was opening the borders. The implication that Mx. Lepore does not seem to grasp is that the hostility to nationalism preceded wholesale immigration.
On the other hand, she is a clever woman, so she could very well have done this on purpose, as a way of injecting the idea into the bloodstream of her peers. The academy is so narrow now, it is looking like a singularity from our perspective, but inside there is some room to maneuver. It requires a heavy dose of esoteric language and triple bank shot references to avoid detection. Perhaps that’s what she is up to by starting with that Degler speech and then ending with a piquant quote from that same talk.
That said, if the intellectual class in the West, but particularly in America, had not drawn all of the wrong lessons from the two great industrial wars of the 20th century, the ruling class would not have set about destroying the fabric of their countries. Perhaps the Frankfurt School notions were a bad idea after all. There’s no mention of this in the Lepore essay, but that an obvious implication once you read to the end. The finishing paragraph is a quote from Degler’s talk at that 19856 conference.
“The history of the United States at the present time does not seek to answer any significant questions,” Degler told his audience some three decades ago. If American historians don’t start asking and answering those sorts of questions, other people will, he warned. They’ll echo Calhoun and Douglas and Father Coughlin. They’ll lament “American carnage.” They’ll call immigrants “animals” and other states “shithole countries.” They’ll adopt the slogan “America first.” They’ll say they can “make America great again.” They’ll call themselves “nationalists.” Their history will be a fiction. They will say that they alone love this country. They will be wrong.
Again, there is no mention of open borders and the unprecedented levels of immigration in this essay, as those things cannot be discussed openly or rationally in the intellectual class. Still, the essay suggests that there is some interest by cloud people in what is happening among the dirt people. They can’t bring themselves to address the fact that you cannot have a common story when everyone is a stranger. Instead, they keep talking about Hitler and the other wrong lessons they drew from the events of last century.
There’s also the strange sense that these origin myths can simply be conjured and then imposed upon a people. The implication of this essay is that America needs a new one, so the people in charge better get busy creating one. The trouble is that white people are not allowed to have an identity and the non-white ascendancy does not have much to point to, as far as their contributions to the national story. Lepore offers something from Frederick Douglas as a starting point for this new national narrative.
A Government founded upon justice, and recognizing the equal rights of all men; claiming no higher authority for existence, or sanction for its laws, than nature, reason, and the regularly ascertained will of the people; steadily refusing to put its sword and purse in the service of any religious creed or family, is a standing offense to most of the Governments of the world, and to some narrow and bigoted people among ourselves.
That is no doubt inspiring to the cloud people, but it says more about how they see themselves than with the facts on the ground. It’s also a negative identity, based on victories over demons that exist only in the imaginations of the rulers. It also suggests she or her masters would like to see whites written out of this new national story. In case it is not clear, “bigoted people among ourselves” is you paleface. Perhaps that can be a useful cri de guerre in the war with the dirt people, but it is not binding narrative.
The fact is, the rise of nationalism, populism and white identity politics is a result of decisions made long ago. The radicals killed the national narrative, because they said nationalism is a dangerous construct. Their solution was to destroy the nations of the West, which has meant destroying the national identities of the West. That has now devolved into a war on the native stock of the West. There can be no unifying narrative that includes the both the destroyers and their victims.
That brings us back to the start. That small business that gets gobbled up by a multinational cannot maintain its origin myths. The people in that firm can no longer identify with that story, because that story has come an end. If they stick around, it is because of new reasons, less inspiring ones than those that bound them to that small business. That’s what we are seeing today in modern America. The old narrative has come to an end. It is time for a new one. The question is, who will do the writing.