Shortly after his declaration of war on the United States, the Meth-addicted Austrian dictator Adolf Hitler sought to dismiss the achievements of America on the following grounds
“The German Reich has 270 opera houses – a standard of cultural existence of which they over there have no conception. They have clothes, food, cars and a badly constructed house – but with a refrigerator! This sort of thing does not impress us.”
Hitler’s psychosis in regard to America didn’t die with the war. In fact, it lives on today in the minds of the European intellectual class. America might have the most dynamic entrepreneurial society in the world, the world’s most advanced military and the world’s largest economy, but Americans generally are barbarians because they lack a deep historical personality of their own.
It’s true of course, that America is not an ancient nation, replete with rituals, opera, pomp and tradition. What isn’t true however is that this makes them somehow inferior. If anything, ‘American simple-mindedness’ is an important advantage.
While Europeans might enjoy a narcotic happiness grounded upon the achievements of the past, America has a cool-headed sobriety equipping them for the struggles of the future. Tradition is often an intoxicant and one which prevents a country from feeling the need to improve, shift, change with the times.
This is especially evident where I live. Even compared to other European countries, Britain maintains an absurd legacy of outdated rituals. Of these, the State Opening of Parliament is perhaps the most comical. In case you’ve never heard of or witnessed the process involved – here is a summary of events:
“Before the Queen departs Buckingham Palace for Westminster, a member of the House of Commons is taken to the Palace as a ceremonial hostage to guarantee the sovereign’s safety as she enters a possibly hostile Parliament.. .. The Queen arrives in a horse-drawn coach and enters through the Sovereign’s Entrance and proceeds to the Robing Chamber, where she puts on the Imperial State Crown… Once the Lord Chamberlain receives the nod from the Queen, he gives a signal to the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod to summon the House of Commons… Upon hearing the Black Rod’s approach, the House of Commons slams the door in his face, symbolizing the independence of the Commons and its right to debate without the presence of the Queen’s Representative. ”
And on and on it goes…
There is no way of justifying this mind-bending waste of calories. It has no rational origin in the past and it serves no rational purpose in the present. ‘Tradition’ by-itself is not an argument. Some traditions, for example the tradition of Monarchy, can be said to meet a national demand. Tradition (of a secular kind) for tradition’s sake however makes no sense at all. It does not preserve the greatness of Britain any more than the rituals of an OCD sufferer keep away the feared consequences of not performing them. In retaining this nonsense in a fast-changing world, Britain resembles less an authentically continuous culture, and more that famous patient in a psychiatric ward reported as having his finger up his backside ‘to stop his thoughts falling out’.
I fully understand the irony that Americans (and other potential tourists) are charmed by British regality, and so perhaps there is some economic rationale at work here. But surely it would be better for the dignity of the nation to dispense with it altogether and adopt a cool-headed, progressive and business-like approach to the world as it is.
I am a modernist. A fanatical one even. I celebrate Shakespeare and Byron, Keats and Edmund Burke, but I also love smart phones, laptops, American fridges and electronic cigarettes. Progress is good. Competition is vital. To this end, Europe must stop resting on a superannuated renown and begin equipping itself for the future.
This is what China is doing after-all, and it’s working pretty well for them.