In the years following the end of the Second World War, the United States controversially exported its pop culture around the world. The “American Dream” sold well. Perhaps it was just that — a dream, a fantasy, but it had its appeal and people wanted a taste of it. It was youthful, unorthodox and dynamic. People from Japan to Germany to Australia to Taiwan wanted to drink Coca Cola, they wanted to watch American films, to listen to American pop music, to watch American films. Although, myself, a defender of British (Commonwealth) and European traditions, I appreciate the appeal of the American.
The United States held a certain appeal. Americans never quite managed to develop culture to the same extent that others have. Sometimes, this is simply a result of the USA’s relative youth. Italy, Portugal, Germany… Countries with long, complex and rich histories and cultural legacies to which the USA simply cannot be compared. At the same time, the United States didn’t have their historical baggage, either. I would compare the USA and Russia — but that would be even more extreme. Russia has a cultural depth, a profundity which the USA doesn’t deserve to stand in the shadow of. At the same time, Russia has baggage that a worse enemy could scarcely be cursed to bear the half of.
The USA never had the same artistic heritage, so Americans bought up masterpieces from around the world and housed them in some of the world’s greatest, most innovative museums. The USA did not produce classical musicians of the same calibre as Germany, Russia or Italy — so it hired them. American artisans couldn’t compete with European artisans, so the Americans simply gave them visas and lucrative contracts. San Francisco, San Diego and Santa Barbara benefited tremendously from this. Some of the most iconic pieces of American numismatic history — the Barber coins, the Morgan dollar, Saint-Gaudens’s series of gold coins and the Peace dollar — were designed by Europeans. Barber, Morgan and Saint-Gaudens were from the United Kingdom. Anthony de Francisci was from Italy.
The United States didn’t have a classical tradition of its own, but it had a freshness that Europe did not. There has never been an American Bach, but Gershwin was absolutely brilliant. There has never been an American Shakespeare, but Tennessee Williams wrote absolutely brilliant plays. No American city could compete with the complexity of a Rome, the elegance of a Paris, the grandeur of a London or even the faded glory of a Lübeck. Yet… The United States had the chaotic brilliance of New York City, the contrarian charm of San Francisco, the hellish dream-scape of Los Angeles, the languid splendour of New Orleans and Savannah… At one time, the United States offered that with the added benefit of superior infrastructure.
For its faults and shortcomings, the Americans had something to offer, something new. They could be difficult, overbearing — but they could offer opportunities and they could be excellent. After all, the United States could afford to take chances, the United States could afford to buy that which it lacked. The world’s great musicians and actors “wanted” to perform in New York City, in Chicago, in Boston… The worlds’s great film stars “wanted” to get roles in Hollywood. If you were a young German engineer, a young Italian artisan, a young French musician, a Shakespearean-trained English actor, you could do infinitely worse than in the United States.
That has all somewhat changed. The United States has become the centre of a toxic woke culture that is tearing apart the fabric of much of the world. There are countries like South Africa where the desperate need for cultural and social openness has been undermined by the USA’s exported woke culture. Countries like the United Kingdom, like Australia, like New Zealand, like Ireland, like Canada are suffering severe negative consequences. Much like South Africa, their unique sets of historical circumstances are ignored and an ideology based on a warped assessment of the USA’s set of historical circumstances is imposed. Whatever failures the Old Realms had, they did not have the USA’s history of slavery and segregation. South Africa has its share of historical horrors, but it is not the United States and it cannot be treated as such. Much like the United States has long struggled to advance and improve, South Africa needs to do so as well — but it has to find its own path, its own modes.
As I watch the US fall apart around me in my final months here, I hope that we can collectively snap out of it and move past it. If the USA is determined to implode, then it will implode but we don’t need to follow it down the drain.