The Unlikely Origin of American Decline
By umair haque
Sep 27 2016
What any thinking person should want to know today is: how did America get here?
Inside every myth is a tragedy. And beneath every worldly tragedy lies not just politics but philosophy. There is a Western philosopher who has unwittingly shaped the history and trajectory. But he wasn’t American, and he never cared much about America at all.
There are three things that characterize America. Here we are speaking about facts — not my or your opinion.
First, brutalism. An unmitigated disregard for human life. No other rich nation, etc. Builds large-scale institutions for the express purpose of entire social classes and ethnicities to be broken, used, and abused. The question is: why?
The answer is: second, because cruelty is seen as virtuous. It is virtuous because it is seen as a kind of social enforcement of the common good. To be weak is to be unethical. The weak are dead weight stopping progress, destiny, the rightful ascension of the strong.
Third, power as the end of human life. Power realizes selfhood, and therefore power alone is the overriding value — not, say, compassion, justice, or courage — towards which society is oriented. So, third, moral inversion: might essentially makes right.
In these three defining characteristics of America, there is no philosophy in human history that comes so strikingly close as Nietzsche’s. Whatever words we use to define America — individualism, utilitarianism, brutalism — we will see pale reflections of the Neitzschean positions defined long ago. That the highest values of humankind are the will to power, self-mastery, dog-eat-dog conquest, life as raw animality — all these ideas were chalked out first and best not by Lincoln or Jefferson but by Nietzsche.
I won’t discuss just how a German philosopher’s ideas came to shape and define the decline of a nation. The route is obvious, and maybe you already see it.
When you understand the Nietzschean origin of American decline, suddenly, things come into sharper focus everywhere. You see it in triumphalist brand names, like Uber. You see it in “YOLO” — Nietzsche was the first Western philosopher to tell us that this life was all that mattered, because God is dead, remember?
You see it in the relentless quest for “personal power”, “power poses”, and so on — you need to power to “realize yourself”, which, though you might think is an idea Abraham Maslow had, is in fact one that Nietzsche had long before him.
You see it in a constant need for “positivity” — we’re beyond good and evil, remember? They’re obstacles to be dispensed with. You see it in the absurdist subjectivity of the age of self, where everything has been reduced to an “identity”. You see it in “work hard play hard”, the “innovation” of socially useless things like plastic surgery for butt implants, the rise of the VIP lifestyle, all which, of course, reflect the idea of the overman or woman.
If one is an overman, then of course one deserves special privileges. One is not just more fortunate, lucky, or even talented, but inherently worthier. And it is that fools’ quest for special privilege that defines American decline. The dream that used to be about a little house on a quiet street is about a private jet and fuck-you money.
At this point, you might say: but what about religion? Nietzsche eschewed, even damned, Christianity. But Americans embrace it feverishly. Do they? In what sense is denying your fellow citizens healthcare, education, safety, and clean water Christian — let alone religious? If that is religion, then it surely can’t be in obeisance to a God that we all hold in common. Such a God wouldn’t really be worth praying to.