I said in the last post that the creation of the USA was a victory of Rebel Priests and Rebel Commanders that seemed to have no precedent in history. And, yet, the United States has now become the Universal State of Faustian civilisation. The contradiction between these two facts seems to me to be at the heart of why the US is the Unconscious Empire. In this post, I’ll try to explain how this came about.
The birth of the United States takes place in the phase of Toynbee’s cycle where the Creative Minority becomes the Dominant Minority and the Internal Proletariat is formed. A useful way to put these concepts into concrete terms is to compare the histories of the United States and Australia. Both nations were born out of the Internal Proletariat of Britain and Europe.
Everybody knows Australia was founded as a convict colony. What is less well-known is that the establishment of the first convict colony at Sydney was directly motivated by the American Revolution. Britain had too many criminals and not enough prisons to house them. In other words, it had an Internal Proletariat that its Dominant Minority didn’t know what to do with. One of the solutions was to send them overseas and make them someone else’s problem. The practice of sending them to America started in 1718 when the British parliament passed what was called the Transportation Act.
Everybody also knows that the US engaged in chattel slavery beginning in the mid-18th century. Fewer people know that a system of slavery was already in place beforehand. It was known as indentured servitude. The main difference between indentured servitude and chattel slavery is that the former has a time limit at which the slave/servant is given back their freedom.
The Native American population had been placed into indentured servitude by the Spanish, French and the British from the beginning of colonialism. But indentured servitude was also the main way for poor Europeans to get to America. The deal was that somebody would pay for the cost of your trip and when you arrived you had to work for them for a fixed period, usually 7 years.
Somewhere between one-half and two-thirds of the Europeans who emigrated to America in the 18th century did so by indenturing themselves. The deal was sweetened by the fact that most of them became eligible at the end of their 7 years for generous land grants of about 30 acres with a supply of provisions that would set them up to be able to till the land and make a life for themselves as free men. This system created the large pool of labour that was needed to grow the colonies.
The Transportation Act of 1718 allowed the British to send its criminals to America by placing them in indentured servitude under the normal contract conditions. This was a relatively cheap way for the British government to solve its prison overcrowding (Internal Proletariat) problem. The scheme was despised in America, including by Benjamin Franklin, and was one of the many grievances that would eventually lead to war.
When war finally broke out in 1775, the convict shipments ended and British prisons began to overflow again. At the time, the British government expected to win the war. Therefore, they instituted a stopgap measure to solve the overcrowding problem by temporarily housing excess criminals in barges with the goal of resuming shipment to America once the war was won.
In 1779, with the outcome of the war with America still undecided, the prison barges were now overfull too and the problem of what to do with all these criminals arose again. Joseph Banks, the botanist who had accompanied Captain Cook on his voyages, came up with the idea to set up a convict colony in Australia as a way to solve the prison overcrowding problem.
(Random fun fact about Banks: he refused to travel on a later voyage with Cook because the Captain would only allow him to bring one fiddler on board to play music after dinner. Banks had demanded two).
In 1786, with America now independent and no longer willing to accept the criminals of Britain, the British decided to implement Banks’ suggestion. Preparations were made to send the first convicts to Australia. They arrived in what is now Sydney on January 20, 1788. The convicts were placed in exactly the same kind of indentured servitude that was in place in America with terms dependent on the severity of their crime. One of the early governors of Australia, Lachlan Macquarie, also copied the American system by giving land grants to emancipated convicts but this was overturned later as the British government felt it was against the spirit of a penal colony which was supposed to deter would-be criminals.
What was going on here was the Dominant Minority of Britain, which was unable to solve the problem of crime and poverty among the Internal Proletariat it had created, decided to send them elsewhere by either voluntary or compulsory means. This was not a new tactic in history. The Greeks and the Romans had followed the same path. Indentured servitude was more like the slavery of Greece while chattel slavery become predominant later in Rome and was a part of what caused the Roman Empire to fall. History seemed to be repeating.
But here is an important point to understand: the history and fall of Rome was well known at the time among the educated classes in Europe and was front and centre in the minds of the founding fathers who created the United States. It was widely acknowledged that Europe had become tyrannical and cruel and America was explicitly seen as a chance at a fresh start. Furthermore, the men of the Enlightenment had an understanding of the cyclical nature of civilisation.
Two centuries before Spengler and Toynbee, the French historian, Charles Rollin, had already done a comparative history of numerous civilisations and had analysed their rise and fall as a cycle. Lord Chesterfield, in one of his famous letters, recommended to his son to read Rollin in order to understand that history was cyclical and overcome the bias that was dominant at that time of thinking that the ancient world was great and the modern world sucked. Spengler was still complaining about this problem two centuries later.
The big difference between Spengler and Rollin was that Rollin saw the fall of civilisation as a moral failing that he framed in religious terminology. We can summarise him in secular terms this way: if all past civilisations were patriarchies, and if all past civilisations had gone to their doom by what amounted to an inherent flaw in patriarchy, then it followed that we should be able to prevent a similar fate by getting rid of the patriarchy, or at least fixing the flaws in it.
Even if you disagreed with Rollin’s specific analysis, what was implied by his idea was that history could be changed. We could learn what went wrong in the past and ensure we didn’t do the same thing again. This was the belief that motivated Enlightenment thinkers like Chesterfield and also the founders of the United States. For them, the Popes and Kings were just like the tyrants who led Rome to its destruction. The rebellion against the patriarchy was partly motivated by a desire to avoid the fate of Rome.
But there’s a second thread to the founding of the US and that was the Puritan invocation of Jewish history via the Bible. In this way, the US was built on the same Classical-Magian symbiosis that had founded Faustian civilisation in the first place. But it’s even more interesting than that because, as we have already seen in this series of posts, the Jews were the Internal Proletariat in the Classical civilisation. The Bible is, in large part, the story of a historical Internal Proletariat.
Thus, what we have in the founding of the United States is the Internal Proletariat of Britain invoking the lessons of the Internal Proletariat of the Roman Empire (the Jews via the Bible) and then synthesising these with a study of the Creative Minority of Rome that preceded its decadent phase (the Roman Republic). The founding of the United States was the attempt to learn from and avoid a repeat of history.
What makes the founding fathers of the USA special is that they made such an attempt. What makes the USA tragic is that they ended up becoming the Universal State of the Faustian anyway. Part of the reason is that they misdiagnosed the problem.
Tyranny might have been the normal form of the Universal States of past civilisations and the problems of tyranny might very well have been what brought down those civilisations. But Faustian civilisation was a different beast. The rule of kings and popes was only a pseudomorphosis. It was the Classical-Magian pseudomorphosis inherited from the dying days of the Roman Empire. The real Faustian only began to show itself in the industrial revolution with the emergence of modern banking.
The USA has ended up becoming the Universal State of the Faustian after all and we can trace the pathway to that outcome through the bitter enmity between two of the founding fathers: Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.
I’m going to gloss over all the nitty gritty here; the personality flaws, the hypocrisies, the obvious problems in the views of each and all the others nuances. What is important here is the two different stories that have become associated with each man which represent two visions for what the USA should be.
The Jefferson Story was that America should become a self-sufficient land of yeoman farmers. This followed the sentiment that was widespread at the time that the nascent US needed to completely disconnect from the corruption of old Europe. Yeoman farmers would be just like the serfs of old, only they would get to keep more of the fruits of their labour and select their own government. Note that this vision is practically the direct opposite of a proletariat and so Jefferson, although he wouldn’t have thought about it this way, had outlined a vision to overcome the main problem of the time i.e. the existence of the Internal Proletariat.
The Hamilton Story was the America should become a nation just like Britain. By doing so, it would take its place alongside the countries of Europe by becoming a competitor (or, better yet, a victor) in the world of commerce, finance and international politics. To do this, America needed to create its own elite. It was for this reason that Hamilton recommended life terms for parliament. Only a permanent body, he said, could keep the imprudence of democracy in check.
Jefferson was the idealist who thought that all people could be raised up to be exemplars of Enlightenment through education. Hamilton was the hard-nosed realist who had a pessimistic view of human nature and thought democracy was a bad idea. In this way, Hamilton was the direct successor to the kings and popes of old.
The irony is that Hamilton was a member of the Internal Proletariat while Jefferson was from the nobility. Hamilton’s story is eerily similar to Napoleon’s and Hitler’s. He was born on the edge of Empire (in the British West Indies). He was a tenacious, passionate and ambitious outsider who raised himself up to political power through service in the army.
In Hamilton we see the pattern that was repeated in France and Germany of the Internal Proletariat rising to a position of political power and pushing for a Universal State. I have already pointed out how strange this is historically, since it amounts to the Internal Proletariat doing the work that the Dominant Minority should be doing.
In the Classical world, Julius Caesar filled this role. He was a member of the elite whose challenge to the decadent structures of Rome created the conditions by which Augustus came to power. It was Caesar who forged the new system of monarchy which marked the final phase of the Classical civilisation. Although he wasn’t acting alone, it’s nevertheless true that Caesar in large part created the Universal State of the Classical Civilisation.
If history was repeating, it should have been Jefferson who created the Universal State of Faustian civilisation since he came from the nobility and was very Caesar-like in the scope of his abilities and his political influence. But Jefferson was not pushing for the Universal State. He was arguing against it.
It was Hamilton who was pushing in the direction which led to a Universal State. What a synchronicity then that Abigail Adams, John Adams’ wife, had warned her husband that Hamilton was a dangerous man “ambitious as Julius Caesar and a subtle intriguer”. Thus, Hamilton equates to Caesar. It was his influence which led the US to become the Universal State of the Faustian.
Given the Biblical nature of the birth of the United States, it wouldn’t be too far wrong to say that Hamilton was Cain to Jefferson’s Abel. The Jeffersonian vision was informed by an Enlightenment understanding of the cyclical nature of history and an optimistic view of human nature implied by the philosophy of Rousseau. It desired a country populated by self-sufficient, full engaged and empowered citizens in a nation that would be similarly self-sufficient and independent.
The Hamiltonian vision amounted to recreating the conditions of a European nation state in America with the Internal Proletariat kept in check by a Dominant Minority. This wasn’t just theory either. Hamilton put this vision into action very early on.
In 1794, Hamilton was the Secretary of the Treasury and needed to raise revenue to pay off debts. He decided to introduce an excise on whiskey that he knew would be unpopular. The excise triggered the Whiskey Rebellion during which Hamilton personally accompanied a huge contingent of federal troops to put down the rebels. All this only two decades after the Boston Tea Party. Meet the new boss; same as the old boss.
Of course, Hamilton didn’t have it all his own way and Jefferson himself would become president some years later. The tension between the Jeffersonian and the Hamiltonian visions is still present in modern America. But the reality is that Hamilton won. It’s yet another synchronicity that the musical Hamilton would become popular with the deep state and its political allies during the Trump presidency. The modern deep state, the international banking and corporate interests as well as the public bureaucracy, are the direct successors to Hamilton.
Naturally, Hamilton was also a banker. He founded the Bank of New York. In the decades that followed the creation of the USA, the industrial revolution and its banking system slowly but surely took over the real political power in the world. Britain had muscled out Holland and other competitors for control of the international banking system in the 19th century. In the years that followed WW2, America took over the reins.
This was all done behind closed doors at conferences where men in suits agreed upon the rules of the new system. The US was in the box seat since the most important countries at the table owed it huge war debts. An associate representing the Bank of England said of the Bretton Woods agreement that it was the worst thing to happen to Britain except for the war itself. The keys to the British Empire had been handed to the US. With France and Germany in ruins, the Universal State of the Faustian civilisation was less created by the United States than handed to it on a silver platter.
Isn’t it ironic that the Faustian is named after a man who did a deal with the devil. The devil’s pact the USA made at the end of WW2 was to betray the foundations of its republic. Although, in fairness, all other nation states were faced with the same dilemma. Industrial capitalism simply was not compatible with the concept of the nation state. The nation state is predicated on independence. Industrial capitalism is predicated on interdependence. The tension between these still dominates our politics.
If there was a symbolic battle in the USA between Jefferson and Hamilton, it was lost at the end of WW2. The reason why that victory was not made overt was because the Jeffersonian dream in various guises is still supported by a large share of the American public. The other reason is because the Universal State of the Faustian civilisation is not an empire. It has no emperors and only minimal exoteric form at all. Its power lies in the management of systems and the control of access to those systems. Just ask the Canadian truckers (internal proletariat) and the Russians (external proletariat) who have had their bank accounts frozen in the last year or so.
Interestingly, the financial aspects of this system were exactly predicted by Spengler.
“Capitalism comes into existence only with the world-city existence of a Civilisation, and it is confined to the very small ring of those who represent this existence by their persons and intelligence, its opposite is the provincial economy.”
Jefferson’s vision was the provincial economy. Therefore, it was the opposite of the Faustian. His vision would have required America to completely disconnect from Europe, but that was never really possible. Thus, Hamilton won the day and, with him, the Internal Proletariat of Faustian civilisation rose to the position of Dominant Minority and did what the old Dominant Minority of Popes and Kings had been unable to do: create a Universal State.
All posts in this series:-
Re-thinking Spengler Part 1: Morphological Thinking
Re-thinking Spengler Part 2: The Psychology of Pseudomorphosis
Re-thinking Spengler Part 3: The Problem of the Magian
Re-thinking Spengler Part 4: Bourgeoisie vs Romantics
Re-thinking Spengler Part 5: On Elitism
Re-thinking Spengler Part 6: Rogue Priests and Rebel Commanders
Re-thinking Spengler Part 7: A Pop Culture Interlude
Re-thinking Spengler Part 8: Kings and Commoners
Re-thinking Spengler Part 9: Escape from the Tyrannical Father
Re-thinking Spengler Part 10: The USA (Universal State of America)
Re-thinking Spengler Final
4 thoughts on “Re-thinking Spengler Part 10: The USA (Universal State of America)”
My conclusion of this series after this post is: I am more like a Jeffersonian and I loathe the universal state.
“It has no emperors and only minimal exoteric form at all.”
The president of the USA is regularly celebrated in the media as the most powerful person in the world. So, you could argue that he has at least emperor-like power (e.g. access to the most destructive weapon in the world), even though I would disagree that he has the most power.
I also would say that the Universal State of America has an extensive exoteric form, as now mostly everybody has the “pulpit” in his own home in the form of mass media (e.g. TV). Within this mass media, the preferred style of existing, work and consume, is propagated 24/7.
Secretface – Compare the POTUS to Julius Caesar. Caesar controlled legions and used those legions to physically drive his enemies out of Rome. That’s what I call exoteric power. It’s open and overt. By contrast, “Joe Biden” is fighting a proxy war that involves funneling money and supplies to the Ukraine while also placing various financial restrictions on Russia. That’s what I call esoteric. People behind the scenes make the decisions on all these matters and the President’s job is just to announce them. Similarly, an actual pulpit is exoteric while a faceless journalist writing an article for a newspaper or producing a news broadcast is esoteric.
I think we all loathe it Secretface. The problem is the type of warfare required at this stage of civilisation. The Jeffersonian ideal falls apart as soon as you have international conflict and need to mobilise the huge armies and industry necessary to survive. When Jefferson was president even he couldn’t resist expanding the scope of the US federal government. Once the war is over the central state is always in a more powerful position, unless they of course are defeated.
It’s like a race to the bottom until only one single all encompassing empire is left. Seems to happen every time. The contending states era of China is a great study of this sort of period, a few of the states had high Taoist ideals of world peace and non conflict. They were destroyed.
Skip – yep. And, of course, the US had incurred significant debts just to fight the war of independence and so the state needed to grow right from the start.