The Universal State of America Part 5: Once more on pseudomorphosis

Everything that I’ve written in the last few posts is broadly compatible with the analysis of Spengler in Decline of the West, and so it’s probably worth spending a post on the comparisons between my analysis and his, since this will also allow me to present what I think is my final answer to a puzzle that I’ve been trying to sort through for more than a year. The puzzle relates to Spengler’s concept of pseudomorphosis.

To describe pseudomorphosis, I like to use my levels of being concept. Mostly, I’ve been using a three-part distinction between Physical, Exoteric and Esoteric, but since we’re talking about Spengler, it’s useful to further divide the Esoteric into upper and lower. While we’re dividing, I’ll also divide the Physical into alive and inanimate. Here’s how that looks:-

Level of BeingScientific domain
Physical – inanimatePhysics, chemistry
Physical – aliveBiology
ExotericSociology, politics, anthropology
Esoteric – lowerPsychology
Esoteric – upperTheology, philosophy

The Exoteric level of being includes all the outward forms of a society, including the political, economic, and religious institutions as well as cultural practices embodied in symbolic form in rites of passage. A wedding ceremony, for example, has an Exoteric form in the ceremonial actions carried out by the various actors, the special clothing, the sacred location (e.g. Church building) etc. A wedding ceremony also resonates at the Esoteric level. It gets its meaning at the highest level of the Esoteric, while also having a psychological resonance in all of the emotions, excitements, and dramas that accompany the event. In real life, of course, we experience the levels of being simultaneously and don’t differentiate between them.

It is because Spengler speaks in the high falutin’ language of German romanticism that reading him can make us lose sight of the fact that these concepts belong to everyday life in society. Nevertheless, it is true that Spengler is mostly concerned with what we have defined as the upper Esoteric, which are the core concepts that unify a culture and which, almost by definition, require an extensive education to come to grips with. Therefore, they are usually understood in the fullest terms only by a small minority. An educated priest should be able to explain how the layout of the church maps to the concepts of Christian theology, but two people getting married in a church don’t need to know any of that Esoteric stuff. They simply need to perform their prescribed Exoteric roles.

The assumption is that it is the Esoteric level of being that determines the Exoteric, and this is the main reason why I prefer these abstract names. Esoteric simply means “hidden”, while Exoteric means “visible”. By calling it the Esoteric, we abstract away from theological and philosophical debates and avoid getting bogged down in metaphysics. As a result, the term Esoteric works equally well whether we think the highest meanings of our lives come from God or whether, like Spengler, we assume they come from some kind of cultural instinct derived from geography.

Now that we know the difference between the Esoteric and Exoteric in broad terms, we are ready to understand the concept of pseudomorphosis, which is one way in which the two levels of being get out of alignment. Since Spengler was concerned with entire societies, that’s where his focus lies but, again, we should note that this is a very common occurrence in our own lives. Ever had a job that you used to like but then got bored with? That means your Esoteric level of being (emotions, goals, desires) no longer matched your Exoteric level of being (the job). The same can happen in marriage or romantic relationships, in church, in your political affiliation or even in banal things like what you normally eat for breakfast. Life is the process of trying to find an equilibrium between the Esoteric and Exoteric levels of being so that the outward expressions of our lives match the inner.

Sometimes, the equilibrium between Esoteric and Exoteric is thrown out of balance by factors external to us. That can also happen at the societal level. It is the latter which Spengler was concerned with when he talks about pseudomorphosis. Specifically, he was referring to a general pattern that occurs where the Exoteric institutions of a dominant society are imposed on a subordinate one. Implied in his definition is that we are talking about a situation where one culture is defeated militarily and is now under the domination of another. A classic example from our time would be the nations conquered by the United States, which then had parliamentary democracies installed in them. Parliamentary democracy is an Exoteric institution born in western Europe and is, therefore, not “native” to those nations.

What happens in pseudomorphosis is that the Esoteric spirit of the subordinate culture finds itself mismatched with the Exoteric forms that have been imposed on it. Spengler assumes that this will give rise to the emotion of hatred on the part of the subjugated people, who will come to despise the culture that dominates it. For Spengler, this hatred is not just born out of the obvious resentment that comes from military defeat but is inherent in the mismatch between the Esoteric and Exoteric.

The issue I have been puzzling over in relation to the concept of pseudomorphosis is that it seemed certain to me that Faustian (modern European) civilisation was itself born out of a pseudomorphosis of the Classical civilisation (ancient Greece and Rome) in that it was created from the Exoteric institution of the Catholic Church, which was itself the product of the Classical civilisation. The problem was that there was no emotion of hatred involved and also no implied real-time political and military domination since the Classical civilisation had ceased to exist by that time. Since Spengler had defined pseudomorphosis to require both of these properties, it didn’t strictly fit his definition, but, if we allow the definition to be expanded, we can account for two phenomena that Spengler and many other thinkers have puzzled over for centuries and which are crucial to understanding Faustian civilisation.

The first is what happened in the late Roman Empire. In one sense, this was a classic pseudomorphosis in exactly the way that Spengler defined it with the Classical civilisation being the dominant one and the Magian (located mostly in what we would now call the Middle East) being the subordinate. We all know this story intimately since it’s the civilisational background of the New Testament. Moreover, we even see exactly the forms of hatred and resentment that Spengler talked about, for example, in the various Jewish revolts against the Romans. We can represent that pseudomorphosis in table form as follows:-

Level of BeingClassicalMagian
Esoteric – lowerClassicalMagian
Esoteric – upperClassicalMagian

The Magian civilisation is under a pseudomorphosis to the Classical at the Exoteric level of being but retains its Esoteric identity. This is a perfect example of the concept exactly as Spengler defined it. But then something happened that has puzzled scholars all the way up until our time: Christianity became the state religion of Rome. Since Christianity belongs to the Magian civilisation, this implies that the Magian had somehow taken over the Classical even though it was under a pseudomorphosis of the Classical. That’s weird, but it actually fits within both Spengler and Toynbee’s model of history.

Rome represented what Toynbee called the Universal State of the Classical civilisation. The Universal State is the dominant political structure that ushers in a long period of peace and material prosperity. Its arrivals marks the final phase of the cycle of civilisation and the reason is because the Esoteric level of being becomes moribund. We find that life loses its meaning (upper Esoteric) and stagnates in general (lower Esoteric). That’s why the Romans needed circuses to go with their bread. They were bored and needed to be distracted. We can capture this dynamic in our table as follows:-

Level of BeingClassicalMagian
Esoteric – lowerN/AMagian
Esoteric – upperN/AMagian

The dominance of the Universal State over foreign nations continues and, in general, the Exoteric structures of society remain. They can remain in this petrified state for a very, very long time. Ancient Egypt is the prime example of that. Rome itself lasted many centuries in unchanged form. But life in the Universal State has lost its spark and the civilisation has lost its ability to come up with something new. Therefore, we say that the Esoteric level of being has become moribund, especially the upper Esoteric.

What happened in the case of the Roman Empire, however, was very unusual and perhaps unprecedented. There was, using Spengler’s terminology, a reverse pseudomorphosis, or, we might call it, an Esoteric pseudomorphosis. Spengler describes the situation in almost exactly those terms although, because he had given a specific definition to the concept of pseudomorphosis, he didn’t apply that concept to what had occured. When Christianity became the state church of Rome, we can say that the Classical civilisation was now under an Esoteric pseudomorphosis to the Magian. Note that this is exactly the same analysis that Nietzsche and Gibbon made, although they obviously didn’t use this terminology.

This gives us the following table:-

Level of BeingClassicalMagian
Esoteric – lowerMagianMagian
Esoteric – upperMagianMagian

The Classical Exoteric forms remain, but now under an Esoteric pseudomorphosis to the Magian.

There are specific developments that made this possible, the most important of which is that St Paul won the argument within the nascent Christian movement to allow gentiles to join the faith. That’s the only reason Romans could become Christians in the first place. A different but symbolically and archetypally important fact is the one I noted a couple of posts ago where the Christian faith explicitly built the Father archetype into its theology, and this seems to match exactly what was going on in the Classical civilisation with a desire for the Father emerging in the cult of Caesar and other developments.

If the dual pseudomorphosis that took place in the late Roman Empire was already unusual, what happened next was even weirder because it was that dual pseudomorphosis that gave birth to Faustian civilisation through the auspices of the Catholic Church that was carried over from late Rome. The symbolism around the Father was now extended to the highest levels of the Exoteric in the person of the Pope, whose title comes from papa, meaning “father” and who is still referred to as the “holy father”.  But that symbolism is a direct match with the upper Esoteric in the form of the holy trinity: Father – Son – Holy Spirit. Thus, we have a template that presents a unified structure at the Exoteric and Esoteric levels of being:-

Level of BeingFaustian
ExotericClassical-Magian Father
Esoteric – lowerClassical-Magian Father
Esoteric – upperClassical-Magian Father

The Faustian was then born out of a dual pseudomorphosis at both the Exoteric and Esoteric levels of being. This gave rise to a truly uncanny relationship between the Faustian and Classical-Magian which was something that Spengler touched on time and again. In one place, he describes it this way:

“The freedom and power of Classical research are always hindered…by a certain almost religious awe. In all history there is no analogous case of one Culture making a passionate cult of the memory of another.”

But this is the whole point. It was not “almost” a religious awe; it was an actual religious awe that comes from the fact that the Faustian was created by the Classical-Magian synthesis. The parental metaphor here is perfectly apt. The Faustian civilisation was born as a “child” to the “father” of the Classical-Magian dual pseudomorphosis. That would have already been weird enough but what are the odds that the Father-Son relationship would be baked into the very theology itself and which was also represented in the Exoteric forms of the culture through the office of Pope (papa, father)?

We have to remember that theologians used to debate the issue of the trinity furiously, and the trinity is still denied by certain Christian sects, such as the Unitarians. The formulation of these theological concepts into archetypal terms of Father and Son is already a big move psychologically because most conceptions of God talk in abstract terms of a “supreme being” or a deity, or any other term which does not have archetypal resonance in the way that “Father” inevitably does. Can it be a coincidence that this civilisation that was obsessed with the Father would later give rise to the Oedipus Complex?

Freud noted that the son may come to hate the father. Why? Because the father is the dominant power in the household and he prevents the son’s attainment of what he wants (the Esoteric level of being). But that is the exact same relationship that Spengler identified in the hatred of the subordinate culture to the dominant one in pseudomorphosis. It is clear that there is a more general principle which holds both at the individual and collective levels, which makes perfect sense since the collective is made up of individuals. We come to resent and maybe even hate those who stifle our growth and throw our Esoteric and our Exoteric out of balance. That is true of individual people and it is true of entire societies.

But there is another psychology at play, one that Freud also built into the Oedipus Complex. The son may worship and idolise the father. But this is exactly the attitude of the Faustian towards the Classical. Thus, as late as Nietzsche, we find Faustian thinkers who are convinced the Classical civilisation was the greatest thing ever and the thing to do was to try and go back to the glory of Rome.

In truth, both of these Oedipal responses are present throughout the history of the Faustian civilisation. We see equal parts idolisation and rebellion. It’s this exact psychology that Dostoevsky captured so beautifully in many of his novels. We can love and hate somebody at almost the same time. What’s more, the “dominance” they have over us need not be physical in nature. Somebody who is virtuous can be admired for that fact and then hated by the exact same person because their virtue makes that person look bad.  The Faustian has always measured itself against the Classical. It idolised it as an ideal to live up to and then rebelled against it when it failed to do so.

Curiously, we see a similar psychology in modern America’s relationship to Europe. Americans will alternately ridicule Europe as an unproductive backwater while also proudly announcing their European heritage. “I’m half Spanish, half Dutch.” “Oh yeah, well I’m half Swedish, half German.” I saw a classic example of this a couple of months ago in a video of a speech by Tucker Carlson, who referred to the Swedish as “my people”. Apparently, he sees no contradiction between such a statement and the fact that he is “America first”. It is these logical paradoxes that are a hallmark of psychology.

And that’s why we must include the psychological point of view when understanding Faustian civilisation. It’s not a coincidence that psychoanalysis would be born of the Faustian. It was the civilisation which needed it – the civilisation of daddy issues which, these days, are turning into mommy issues.

The Universal State of America Part 4: Trade Wars and Psychic Battles

Let’s begin this post with some definitions that we have already either implied or openly stated so far in this series:-

  • The collective unconscious: Jung’s term for the collection of shared mental concepts that we use to make sense of the world. Included in this are the primal archetypes of Father, Mother, Child, Ruler, Warrior, Sage etc.
  • The societal unconscious: the things which have been pushed out of the collective conscious mind. This can include things that are verboten for moral, psychological and ideological reasons and, perhaps more interestingly, those things which have not yet entered consciousness since society has not yet come to terms with them.
  • The collective consciousness: The things which society is concerned with and collectively discusses and thinks about.

To these concepts, we can add the theory, which has a level of empirical support from cognitive science and which seems intuitively correct, that the unconscious parts of the mind are deeper and stronger than the conscious parts. Moreover, it takes more “processing power” to use the conscious mind than the unconscious. Thus, we fall back to the unconscious during times of stress or when we, for some other reason, have neither the time nor energy to activate the conscious mind. As an extension of this, we can hypothesise that the societal unconscious is just the collective desire of a majority of society not to bring to consciousness certain issues which cause stress in the broadest sense of the word. This is sometimes called cognitive dissonance.

All else being equal, the larger the group involved, the more that “collective thinking” will revert to the unconscious since there is limited bandwidth available in mass communication and only the most basic and fundamental concepts are able to be communicated. Thus, the larger the audience, the more likely the communication will take the form of the broad and easy-to-process concepts of the collective unconscious i.e. the archetypes. Note that this would account for a point we made in the last post: Roman society coalesced around the Father archetype in its Empire phase as society became centralised and homogenised in the cities. We can further add as evidence for this claim that when Christianity eventually became dominant, its seat of power was the cities (the enemies of the Christians were the pagans and the word pagan comes from the Latin where it meant something like “country bumpkin”).

With these ideas, we are ready to make sense of the paradox of the United States of America, possibly the first empire in history which is pretending not to be an empire. The reason the USA is pretending it’s not an empire is because the nation was founded on the idea of rebellion from what I call the Tyrannical Father archetype. Now, we know from the above discussion that the Tyrannical Father belongs to the collective unconscious, and the collective unconscious is a more deep and stable part of the psyche. When we believe something to be true at the unconscious level, it is very hard to change that belief, and, in fact, cognitive scientists have shown that even when we consciously know something to be false, it still resonates in the unconscious since it is the upper brain which forms the negation of the underlying image which lives in the unconscious mind. That is why, for example, you can say of somebody, “he is not a paedophile,” and the statement is still dangerous because the unconscious mind forms the image of the person as a paedophile before the conscious mind negates it. (This is why politicians are told to avoid denying things, since it gives credence to the underlying idea). 

When we go back to the foundation of the United States, what we find is that the disputes were almost entirely between the American colonists and the British parliament. These were arguments over trade and taxation, and the colonists had already successfully won concessions from the British parliament by engaging in various tactics that we would now call trade wars or economic warfare. The Boston Tea Party took the whole thing to a new level because it was an act of outright commercial sabotage. The debate that happened in the British Parliament afterwards centred around the fact that the British had to respond to this escalation because it undermined the authority of Parliament (not, you will note, of the King). The retaliation was what became known as the Intolerable Acts.

Note that King George III had little to do with any of this. What was already in place in Britain was what we now take for granted, which is parliament as a kind of clearing house for the regulation and management of commercial enterprise. The East India Company had lobbied Parliament for a monopoly on the supply of tea. It got what it wanted, but the result was a market failure since the price of tea went up (which almost always happens in a monopoly) and the British public realised they could get cheaper tea from the Netherlands. The British Parliament tried to solve the market failure by dumping tea into the colonies, and the rest is history.

Thus, the American colonists were in a commercial and trade war with Britain long before the war turned military in nature. Even in the years leading up to the actual fighting, there was a covert war being fought since both the French and the Spanish supplied the American colonists. How did they do that without getting busted by the British? By setting up pretend commercial enterprises and shipping weapons to America under the cover of legitimate trade (just like America is now shipping weapons to Ukraine, although that’s happening overtly).

What’s more, even when the war of independence broke out, the battle over trade did not stop. Thus, the British occupied US ports to prevent both imports and exports from taking place. The American colonists tried to put an embargo on trade with the British on the continent, and even the French sugar plantations in the Caribbean were targeted once the French joined the war. Already, with the US war of independence, we see the origins of Total War, since war was no longer just about soldiers lining up on a field and battling it out until somebody surrendered. War now included what historian Jeremy Black later came to call Informal Empire. It was as much about sabotaging the economy of your enemy as about fighting them directly on the battlefield.

All of this belongs to the above-mentioned category of the societal unconscious i.e. the things that are not consciously understood and talked about. We know that’s true because historians needed to come up with new names for these things, like Total War and Informal Empire. But that is not how the general public understands them, and this comes back to a point about the differences between the conscious and the unconscious. Why did the general public of the United States come to see the war of independence as a rebellion against the Tyrannical Father of George III? The answer is because this was part of the trend which began with the Reformation and which was tied in with the twin archetypal Fathers of Pope and King. The archetypal meanings around the US war of independence were very largely created by Thomas Paine in his book Common Sense. This quote is highly relevant:-

“And a man hath good reason to believe that there is as much of king-craft, as priest-craft, in withholding the scripture from the public in Popish countries. For monarchy in every instance is the Popery of government.”

Paine was arguing against the divine right of kings, which, again, was the pairing of the twin archetypal Fathers of Pope and King. The Pope had already been rejected in Protestant nations, and the King was next on the chopping block. Just ask Charles I and Louis XVI.  At the level of the collective unconscious, what resonated with the general public was that the war of independence was the rejection of the Tyrannical Father and that is why King George III got blamed for a whole bunch of things that had far more to do with the operation of parliament and commercial interests that he was not directly involved in.

Now, it’s important to point out that it’s not a matter of one or the other perspective being “correct” but rather that both were true. At the archetypal level, the deeper level of the psyche, the war of independence was a rejection of the Tyrannical Father because the British had placed the archetypal Father back on the throne when Cromwell died. Thus, King George III really was the archetypal Father. Possibly, he had become even more archetypal to the extent that he was less involved in daily affairs and was therefore primarily a symbolic figure. In this respect, the American colonists were doing what the British had been unable to do, which was to throw off the Father altogether, and it’s noteworthy that all of continental Europe and even Russia and China in the early 20th century would eventually throw off the Father either symbolically or in reality. Just ask Nicholas II and Puyi.

Therefore, the founding myth of the US is “true” at the archetypal level, which is where myth is true. And this is where the feedback loops between the unconscious and conscious minds and the “real world” get interesting. We have to remember that the US was founded with the historical consciousness of Faustian civilisation. The founding fathers were very well aware, like most European intellectuals, that history showed that civilisations end up in tyranny, and that following the tyranny the civilisation tends to collapse. That is what the historical record shows. Thus, at a conscious level in the minds of the intellectuals of the time, Europe was already heading back down a pathway to tyranny, which signified, for them, the end stages of civilisation. Ironically, this had actually been enabled by the Reformation which allowed the kings of northern Europe to disintermediate the Catholic Church and make the state far more dominant than it ever had been.

In any case, the US was founded on the assumption that the great threat was the Tyrannical Father, not just because he is bad in himself but because the arrival of the tyrant signals the end of civilisation. Out of this comes the idea of American exceptionalism and this is present even in Thomas Paine who saw the US as a new start for humanity. Thus, the collective consciousness around the formation of the US was predicated on the historical consciousness of European civilisation and the desire to avoid the fate which history seemed to have prescribed for Europe i.e. tyranny leading to downfall.

We can see, therefore, that there is a match between the unconscious and conscious minds in this respect. At the collective unconscious level is the Tyrannical Father. At the conscious level is the understanding that tyrants destroy civilisation, which is borne out by the historical record. Selling the idea to the public that George III was responsible made sense.

But perhaps the crucial discordance that was at play and is still at play in our day was the attitude to trade and commerce that prevailed among the American colonists. Again, we can use Thomas Paine in this respect, since he was a populist who captured the general mood. The idea was that trade meant freedom from tyranny. Thus, in the conscious mind, trade was a way to escape from the exercise of political dominance. The problem with that is the one we have already discussed: the European powers and the American colonists had already started to weaponise trade to achieve political outcomes. The new paradigm which was forming was trade war, which later evolved into financial war. Trade war became the main game, with military hostilities reserved as a last resort. Thus, to say it again, the US war of independence was a trade war long before it was a military one. In the foundation of the United States was the paradigm that has become dominant in our time. Trade and politics were already synonymous.

But all of this still makes sense because the ascendance of trade was predicated on the rebellion against the Tyrannical Father. The merchant class emerged as the dominant force in direct proportion as the Pope and King were pushed aside. The United States was founded by merchants who saw their rebellion as being against King George III. It’s quite likely that many of them really believed that and were simply unaware (unconscious) that trade could be weaponised for political purposes. Using our earlier terminology, we say that the weaponization of trade and commerce had been relegated to the societal unconscious.

And the truly strange part is that it is still there. At the time of writing, the US is in a trade war with Russia, Iran and probably a number of other countries that we don’t know about. Its imperial power is predicated on control of the international financial system. The deep state is currently trying to take out a presidential candidate using the exact tactics of commercial, financial, and legal sabotage that have been the cornerstone of Informal Empire right from the beginning of the United States. All of this belongs to the societal unconscious. Any discussion of it is quickly covered over with propaganda, and propaganda is always an appeal to the Unconscious mind.

And this leads to a final point, which is implied by Jung’s idea of individuation. Perhaps the way civilisation works is something like this. Over time, we add to our stock of concepts in the Unconscious. These are all the things that are deep and solid. By definition, they must have existed for a long time before they condense into the bedrock of the psyche. Things that are “new”, like Total War and Informal Empire, have not yet had enough time to become part of the unconscious mind. We can process them consciously, but that takes a lot of mental effort and the truth is, the contents of the conscious mind are always flimsy and unstable relative to the Unconscious. Moreover, the attempt to process these things consciously is bound to fail since public discourse cannot handle the bandwidth required for such a discussion. Only over extended periods of time, with much repetition and a shared experience on the part of a large proportion of the population, can something become dense and solid enough to take up a place in the Unconscious. We’re not there yet.

The Universal State of America Part 3: The Civilisational Oedipus Complex

To say that the Classical civilisation of Greece and Rome was a massive influence on modern European civilisation is a statement of the obvious. It’s when we try to be more specific about the nature of that influence that differing perspectives appear. Many historians think that the modern European is a simple linear progression of the Classical interspersed by the dramatic period of the dark ages where the light of civilisation was almost snuffed out for good. It is because such a view was so common that Oswald Spengler repeatedly insisted, and provided ample evidence to back up his claim, that the modern European (Faustian) was, in fact, a completely different civilisation to the Classical and needed to be understood as such. In between these two extremes was the position of Toynbee who called the Classical the “parent” of the modern European thereby allowing for both an independent existence for the modern while also acknowledging the influence of the ancient.

In the last post in this series, I made the claim that the macrocosm of civilisation needs to be understood as identical to the microcosm. If that’s true, and if the Classical is the “parent” to the Faustian, then wouldn’t we expect to see similar elements of the relationship as it exists between individual people and their parents? It’s a question that most historians would never think to ask but one that I had accidentally stumbled upon with my Devouring Mother analysis. The answer seems to be a solid yes. But we can be even more specific because what we see in the archetypal dynamic between the Faustian and the Classical is a Father – Son relationship manifesting the psychology of the Oedipus Complex.   

As far as I’m aware, Freud never made the Oedipal case for modern European civilisation but he made a similar case for society in general in Totem and Taboo and also Civilisation and its Discontents

Where things get rather meta, however, is that it seems that the desire for an archetypal Father figure was itself a major change that occurred in the Classical civilisation and that specifically arose at the time when Rome made the change from republic to military dictatorship. The Caesars became the societal Fathers of Rome. This was true in both symbolic and more practical forms.

Prior to this development, Rome was a genuine, old-school patriarchy at the microcosmic level. The father was head of the household and had complete legal and moral authority over the members of the household not just including slaves and servants but wives and children too. When Rome changed into a military dictatorship, one way to think about that change was that the macrocosmic structure of the state was being brought into line with the microcosmic structure of the family. Just like the fathers of Roman households, the Caesars became the primary breadwinner, the protector and also the religious leaders of Rome.

One piece of evidence for this claim is that, beginning with Julius, the Caesars were endowed with the title pater patriae which means father of the fatherland. This was tied in with the emergence of the cult of Caesar which appeared to be a genuine grassroots movement, a collective religious and psychological cult of the Father. If this is true, then the ascendance of Christianity to the state religion of Rome actually makes a great deal of sense since the Father – Son relationship is built into its theology. Curiously, it was at this same time that bishops started to be referred to as popes. The word pope is rendered in Greek and Latin as papa meaning father. Prior to that, the term pontiff was used, which did not have the paternal connotation. Thus, beginning with the cult of Caesar and picking up steam as the centuries progressed, the Roman Empire became based around the Father archetype.

It was the remaining organisational structure of the western Roman Empire that would then be carried over into the nascent Faustian civilisation. Early modern Europe was created by the popes who were archetypal Fathers promulgating a theology where the archetypal Father was supreme. Although the psychology of this is important, we should understand that this was baked into the institutional structures of society at that time and therefore had a variety of real world effects that go beyond the merely psychological.

Thus, there is plenty of symbolic evidence that the Faustian was the Son to the Classical’s Father but, in the secular modern West, we don’t take symbolism seriously and so most people would not find this convincing. Nevertheless, we can see that the symbolism really affected how people thought about these things. As late as 1680, Robert Filmer could argue in his book Patriarcha that kings were the fathers and their subjects were children and that citizens ought to show obedience to their king just as they would to their father. Filmer was not being symbolic. This was a work of political philosophy.

If the Classical was the Father and the Faustian was the Son, do we find any evidence for an Oedipal nature to the civilisational relationship? The Oedipus Complex involves at least two responses on the part of the son. On the one hand, he will idolise the Father as an all-powerful god. On the other hand, he will rebel against the Father. These two normally occur one after the other. Thus, young boys will tend to idolise their Father and then rebel against him later when they are trying to assert their own independence. Ideally, the process works itself through and sons come to see their fathers as human beings with faults and virtues like anybody else, but this is not always the case. What is the case is that we see exactly this Oedipal pattern in the Faustian civilisation’s attitude towards its civilisational Father, the Classical.

The idolisation of the Classical began right from the start. The barbarian warlords of northern Europe were keen to align themselves with the glory of Rome and often made up fictitious genealogies linking themselves back to the greats of antiquity. One example of this is the story of Brutus of Troy, a fictitious Greek character who was said to have been the founder of Britain. This story was really believed as a true historical account of the founding of Britain by the people of the time and even Henry VIII made use of this myth to try and link himself back to antiquity. The practice was not unique to Britain. Many kings and nobles of northern Europe made up similar stories.

As late the 20th century, we see Spengler lamenting the fact that many scholars of his day were still in thrall to Classical concepts. The whole reason Spengler had to insist that the Faustian was unique was because people still believed it was not. The idolisation of the Classical was still present in the culture. If we think about some of the major characters in Faustian history, a central motif in their life is the relationship with the Classical. Thus, Martin Luther’s war against the Pope began with his trip to Rome. Goethe’s trip to Italy was a major turning point in his own life and a big inspiration on Spengler’s later work. Even as Faustian a philosopher of Nietzsche has the relationship with the Classical as a central theme in his work. He constantly laments the meekness of the modern European in contrast to the health and vigor of the ancients. There is the fact that Napoleon had a Roman crown made for himself when he became emperor or that Mussolini promised the Italians a return to the glory of Rome. The list could go on and on.

All of this is indicative of the Oedipal idolisation of the Father. What we see with the Reformation is the beginning of the rebellion against the Father and it is impossibly coincidental that this should come during the teenage years of the Faustian and would be led by a man who rebelled against his own father: Martin Luther. Luther was the microcosm to the macrocosm. He was the Faustian son rebelling against the Classical Father. It really was a rebellion, too. The Protestants went around smashing up churches. The patriarchs of Europe responded with a display of fatherly discipline that resulted in the deaths of several hundred thousand people.

The kings of northern Europe had supported the Reformation for solid political reasons, most notably because the Catholic Church had been sucking money out of northern economies and sending it back to Rome. No sooner was the power of the church broken than the political and economic power shifted to the north. The problem for the kings was that by breaking ties with the Pope, they had sawn off the symbolic branch that supported their own power and had done so ever since Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the Romans by Leo III. It turns out that symbolism is important after all.

The pact which had been created between the Popes and rulers of Europe came to be called the divine right of kings and it was this which Robert Filmer referred to in trying to defend the old order in 1680. Of course, it was too late for that. Charles I had already had his head chopped off. The divine right of kings was finished and with it the blind obedience due to the Father. In rejecting the holy Father of the Pope, the kings of Europe had undermined their own patriarchal claim inherited from the Classical civilisation.

To cut a long story short, the Faustian came into its mature phase in the lands which had rebelled against the Father i.e. the Protestant North. The British had thrown off the Pope and then decapitated Charles I. They went on to create the most powerful empire the world had ever known. But it was the nation that Britain gave birth to which would exceed its empire in power and reach and it can be no coincidence that a defining feature of that nation is that it was born out of rebellion. In the next post, we’ll see that the United States of America went even further than Britain in its rejection of the Father.  

The Universal State of America Part 2: The Unity of Microcosm and Macrocosm

It is one of the strange paradoxes of our time, and might be unprecedented in history, that the USA is running an empire even though a large share of the public in that country, and in most other countries, believe that it is not. In the aftermath of the WW2, Britain and other European nations all dismantled the remaining formal, Exoteric structures of their own empires and we were told we now lived in a post-colonial and, hence, post-imperial world.

Now, we might say that the reason everybody is pretending the US is not an empire is because the empire works better that way or that it’s not polite to admit it. Even if that were true, it would be very weird by historical standards. All past empires have had no problem letting everybody know that they were the boss. In fact, they went out of their way to do so because empire was largely based on the projection of power and it was in the interests of the emperor to seem as strong and domineering as possible. Even the British were happy to proclaim that they had an empire. Rule Britannia! and all that.

I’m going to argue that the denial of American imperialism runs much deeper and involves an inherent psychological dimension which is a big part of the reason for the psychological dimension of US dominance. Americans are not just pretending they aren’t running an empire for pragmatic reasons. They’re doing it for psychological reasons, ones that have been embedded in the culture from the beginning.

What that psychology amounts to is a rejection of the Father archetype. That development is not unique to America. In fact, it began in Europe with the Reformation. But America was born out of a group of people who were fleeing from the Tyrannical Fathers of Europe and so it received an extra strong dose of the psychology.

Of course, what is going on is not only psychological. The rejection of the Father was a rejection of a specific form of power; the masculine form of power which has been what we traditionally associate with imperialism. By rejecting the Father, the Americans were rejecting imperialism. That’s what they thought and that’s what they still think. But in the political aspects of that rejection lay the seeds of a new form of power which eventually gave rise to a new form of imperialism. It is that new form of power that has been relegated to the unconscious mind. More specifically, it was always unconscious, at least in the mind of the general public.

It’s going to take several posts to lay the analytical foundation by which the above analysis will make sense. The first assumption that we need to make clear is the unity of the microcosm and macrocosm. Now, the microcosm and macrocosm are concepts usually discussed in theology and philosophy to make the claim that the human individual is of the same structure, or type, or material, as God, the cosmos, the universe or similar holistic concepts. In this series of posts, we’re going to use the microcosm-macrocosm concept in a more limited fashion. The microcosm is still the human individual. The macrocosm is civilisation.

Civilisation is one of those concepts that we all take for granted and yet, when you start to question it, the definition begins to slip through your fingers. Let’s avoid that and break all the rules of philosophy to engage in a piece of circular reasoning. We have said that civilisation is the macrocosm to the microcosm of the human individual. It follows that, whatever civilisation is, it’s the same kind of thing as a human individual. Since we know what humans are, we can use ourselves as a template to define civilisation.

What led me to this idea in the first place was Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious which followed from the work he and Freud did around the personal unconscious. The personal unconscious consists of the things that have been pushed out of the conscious mind, usually as a result of some kind of trauma. What Freud and Jung realised was that the “energy” pushed into the unconscious had a habit of bubbling back up into consciousness in all kinds of weird ways and the psychoanalyst’s job was to try and untangle the mess and get to the root of the problem.

In some way, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing in this series of posts, only it won’t be a person laying on our psychologist’s couch but western civilisation in general, and America in particular.

Although Jung’s collective unconscious idea was born out of the work he did on the personal unconscious, he ended framing it quite differently, which is unfortunate since it’s the perfect term for the concept we need. So, let’s change the phrase slightly and call it the societal unconscious. The societal unconscious then becomes all the things which have been pushed out of the collective mind of a society and into the unconscious.

If this sounds a bit whacky, consider any group of people you have ever belonged to: a family, a sports team, a music group, a volunteer organisation, a small business, a corporation or a government department. Didn’t that group have a specific set of things that it consciously and collectively thought about? Didn’t that group also have a specific set of things that were not to be spoken about? Most of us have had the experience of raising something in a group and being gently, or not so gently, informed that the topic is verboten. That is the societal unconscious and we can contrast it with the societal conscious. Together, we get a collective mind that mirrors the individual in its structure.

Jung believed the contents of the collective unconscious to be universals of human psychology. But we can adapt his idea and, again, limit it to a particular civilisation. When we do so, we get very close to the work of the comparative historian, Oswald Spengler, who investigated the shared set of underlying ideas that seem to unify civilisations. Jung was concerned with the universal concepts of the collective unconscious. Spengler was concerned with the specific concepts that grounded specific cultures.

All of this is prima facie evidence for a correspondence between microcosm and macrocosm at the mental or psychological level. What about the physical or biological level? Each of us requires a quantum of energy in order to survive and go about our day. The same is true of civilisations. All the people who show up to work at a giant corporation each day need to get there somehow. There needs to be physical transport infrastructure and a source of energy to make that happen just as we all need a source of energy to do our daily work. Civilisations seem to have a metabolism just like other organisms; another correspondence between microcosm and macrocosm.

It was the comparative historians, Spengler and also Toynbee, who posited the microcosm-macrocosm idea we have been talking about and they did so by noticing another very important correspondence between the two. What they noticed was that the cycle of civilisation seemed to correspond to the human lifecycle. Spengler, in accordance with the materialist philosophy that had become dominant in the 19th century, used an explicit biological metaphor to describe civilisation and, in particular, to account for why civilisations die. They simply “run out of energy”, he said. They lose their vigour just as do elderly humans or other animals and plants.

Toynbee disagreed with Spengler on this point but then he needed to come up with his own reason why civilisations die. “Suicide” was his answer, which is a strange thing to say since suicide is a conscious and deliberate act and it seems clear that civilisations don’t deliberately kill themselves. A much better explanation would be to say that civilisations unconsciously kill themselves i.e. it is things which civilisations push down into the unconscious and, therefore, fail to deal with that end up doing them in.

This whole debate goes away if we invoke our definition of the microcosm and macrocosm. We have said that civilisation is the same kind of thing as a human being. We agree with Spengler that there is a biological component and we agree with Toynbee that there is a psychological and even a spiritual component. It’s not a question of either/or, it’s both.

What I came to realise as I was working through the concept for my upcoming book was that both Toynbee and Spengler had identified in the macrocosm of civilisation an identical idea to one that I had been using to describe the human lifecycle. I’m referring to the archetypes.

The archetypes are the segments of our lives. They are the common patterns that we each go through. Of relevance to the above discussion, the archetypes have both a biological and a psychological (and almost certainly also a spiritual) aspect. We can map the archetypes on to the human lifecycle as follows:-

There is a certain amount of subjectivity in how we divide up the lifecycle but the two archetypes everybody would agree on are Child and Adult and these are true universals of human culture. In my opinion, the Orphan and Elder are almost equally well-attested on both biological and anthropological grounds.

What is important is that both Spengler and Toynbee also divided up the cycle of civilisation into archetypes. Spengler posited a two-part distinction he called culture and civilisation. Toynbee posited four: Genesis, Growth, Breakdown and Disintegration. We can map these onto the cycle of civilisation in exactly the same way as we map the archetypes of the human lifecycle.

Here, then, is the hypothesis or thought experiment we will be following in this series of posts. If the microcosm and macrocosm really do share the same underlying structure, then we would expect the archetypes of the macrocosm to follow the same pattern as the archetypes of the microcosm. Just as each one of us goes through puberty, for example, and just as our experience of puberty has common factors that we all experience while also having personal ones that are unique to ourselves, so too do civilisations go through the same kinds of growing pains. The growing pains that occur during the Genesis phase of the cycle have shared properties that occur across all civilisations. That is the basis for all comparative history.

What our definition of the microcosm-macrocosm implies is that the archetypes really are the same. We can make that explicit by renaming Toynbee’s third and fourth archetypes using more neutral terms. When we do that, we get something like this:-

ElderOld Age

Although there are plenty of avenues to explore within this analytical framework, our focus in this series of posts is going to be the psychological. It cannot be a coincidence that western civilisation gave rise to the Freudian psychology. We have said that America was predicated on a rejection of the Father. But the more general point is that western civilisation has had daddy issues right from the get go. We’ll be talking about that more in the next post.

The Universal State of America Part 1: Coming Soon

Long term readers may remember that it was almost a year ago where I announced I had had a eureka moment in relation to my next book project and was going to take two weeks away from the blog to write it up. That’s right, I sincerely believed I could write the whole book in two weeks. Now, in fairness to myself, this estimate was based on the assumption that I already had most of the material written and, at least as far as I understood the concept for the book at that time, this was true. Of course, I didn’t (fully) understand the concept. I only thought I did.

Well, it’s now almost a year later and it’s fair to say that the writing gods have duly punished me for my hubris. I am not exaggerating when I say I have thrown away half a million words to arrive at a book that is less than one hundred thousand words long. The goods news is my punishment is over. As I began yet another editing review at the start of this week I finally had that feeling that I recognised from past books. The it’s done feeling. At time of writing, I’m about halfway through what should be the final edit. After that, it’ll just need a proof read to pick up any lingering spelling and grammatical errors.

Trying to figure out what genre the book belongs to has been a very difficult task and I still don’t have a good answer. What I would like to call it is “archetypal history” – history analysed through the lens of archetypes – but that genre doesn’t exist. The reason why archetypal history works is because the inspiration came from me asking a seemingly simple question after the publication of my book The Devouring Mother. The question was: when did the Devouring Mother become the dominant archetype of the modern West? That is a question of history. It’s a strange, but not unprecedented, way of thinking about history. Both Freud’s Totem and Taboo and Jung’s Answer to Job are in the same vein although both of those works were primarily about other matters.

The short answer to the question of when the Devouring Mother became dominant in the modern West is with the founding of the United States of America. Unbeknownst to me when I began writing the book, Jung had already described it from a psychological point of view. Americans, he once wrote, “as a result of the extreme detachment from the father, are characterised by a most enormous mother complex…” Thus, the Devouring Mother has become dominant to the extent that the United States has become dominant.

Putting this claim together with the notion of archetypal history has eventually given me the title of the book: The Universal State of America: An Archetypal Calculus of Western Civilisation.

Anyway, that’s a very long-winded way of saying that I won’t be writing a post this week as I’ve deliberately cleared out my week in order to get the final edit of the book done. Starting next week, I’ll take a few posts to give an outline of the main thesis of the book and, if the stars align, the book will be available by the end.

See youse next week.