Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Culturist History Lessons for Racist Historians

Was Manifest Destiny good? Manifest Destiny was the 19th century belief that the then Eastern bound United States was destined to expand to the west coast. Coined in 1836, the phrase and idea of Manifest Destiny was used to justify the annexation of the nation of Texas and the Mexican - American War from which Mexico ceded much of the US’s current southwestern land. This expansionist point of view’s merit rests on the assumption that the spread of American values meant the betterment of humanity.

Today historians many denounce Manifest Destiny as a racist forerunner of imperialism. These historian's racist interpretation lays on a failure to understand how importantly our forerunners took culture. Conflating culture and race causes today’s historians to misunderstand their subjects and seriously distorts America’s sense of self. Racist historians should consider the culturist historical perspective.

Manifest Destiny rested on assumptions that race-obsessed academia finds completely taboo. For example, believers in manifest destiny assumed that our republican form of government, in which people governed themselves, individually and collectively, was very special. People of the time contrasted our way with monarchy in which others governed you.

Less PC yet, it was held that this expansion of republicanism under the banner of Manifest Destiny had to have, in the parlance of the time, Anglo-Saxon roots. Those who formulated Manifest Destiny thought republican government required a culture of rational machismo, a love of work and self-government, an active stance towards taking one’s destiny into their own hands, only found in the cultural descendants of the Germanic tribes who conquered England. Therefore, the Anglo – Americans, and not the Mexicans, had to populate the remaining continental territory for republicanism to spread.

Up until and during the time of Manifest Destiny nearly all of the world, and indeed Mexico, had been impoverished and despotic. Had there not been America inventing electricity, fomenting industry, and developing the idea of democracy, Mexico would undoubtedly still be medieval. And, had Mexico controlled and populated Texas and the Southwest of America, there is absolutely no reason to believe that these areas would be different than the rest of Mexico. In other words, the spread of Anglo – American culture from sea to shining sea did enlarge the area of the world that was wealthy, democratic, rights recognizing, religiously free, and with free speech. 

The idea that America is a special nation gets routinely laughed at in academia. Multiculturalism teaches today’s academics that our nation is no better than any other. Therefore, belief in our being better can only be interpreted as racist. Manifest Destiny, from this academic perspective, was simply a justification for an irrational, racist power grab. But, if we accept the culturist position that culture can impact outcomes, we have a great explanation for the difference between what the southwest became and what it would have been under Mexican rule.  Appreciating Manifest Destiny is not, thereby, irrational racism, it is rational culturism.

The culturist historical perspective provides valuable insight to our understanding of “Manifest Destiny,” American thought, and our future. Without taking culture seriously, we can only see the distinction between Mexicans and Anglo-Saxons culture as racist. As race has no inherent meaning or impact, historian’s purely racial analysis makes America look stupid and mean. Multiculturalists, again, bolster the view of us as irrational and mean as they celebrate all cultures equally and thus minimize the possibility that culture could really be a meaningful factor in policy or outcome.

Culturism and culturist interpretations of history assume that culture can actually impact academic and economic achievement. Ultimately, as history and research such as Ronald Inglehart’s World Values Survey and Robert Putnam’s work on Italy have shown, culture can even impact the sort of government a nation can have. When historians collapse cultural and racist arguments under the banner “racist,” they misrepresent the logic of our predecessors and shrink our tools for analysis concerning the present.

By adopting a culturist perspective, by taking culture seriously, historians would derive a much clearer vision of our history. The Puritans were very culturist; they considered hard work and education central to their survival. Prohibition provides another example of our nation being very worried about cultural decline. Sometimes, policies make no sense without a culturist lens; the 1924 Immigration Act’s justifications largely concerned culture, not race. The WW II Japanese Relocation happened on a culturist basis. Without a culturist perspective, relying only on multiculturalism, we undermine our status as a special nation that requires responsible behavior; If all nations are equally great, progress has not happened, and no values are better than any others. When historians only invoke racist interpretations of history, our progenitors’ sense of themselves and our nation’s current sense of itself both get mangled.


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