Date: June 23, 1923
Location: University of Blackwater, Blackwater, West Elizabeth
Excerpt from The American Ethic
Dr. John (Jack) Marston II
The development of the United States as a modern power has confused contemporary scholars, because it has seemingly developed in opposition to the myths and legends that define its culture. The economy, now one of the strongest in the world, has a base of industry and labor that can only exist in cities, yet the ethos of the American man places him in the wild deserts of New Austin, living a harsh agricultural life with constant strife. The Great Cholera of 1908 is an added touch as well. The United States claims to be a liberator, a defender of freedom, equality, and self-determination. However, even if it refuses to admit it, the United States values loyalty to the State above else, and it dominates its colonies (de jure or de facto) in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guarma, Hawaii, and Guam much in the same manner that Spain dominated Mexico or Britain and France dominate Alaska now. Maybe some of these lands will become full states in the future, but this eventual equality will be built on the back of present subjugation.
I have little doubt that the United States will go on to punish *other* countries for violating *their* laws. Yet, as I wrote in my dissertation, The Blackmail of John Marston, it has no objections to coercing a man to serve it before gunning him down at his home when his usefulness has expired. Due process and a trial by jury are of no importance.
That being said, the American myth is not some monolith, and it has evolved from sources far beyond the Founding Fathers over the two-hundred and forty-nine years of our existence. In the modern era, both academia and history produce the same myth, encapsulated by the Princeton theorist Dr. Evelyn Miller and the notorious outlaw Dutch Van der Linde respectively, but this myth is little more than fiction.
Dr. Miller, though his ideas and ideals were at best flawed and at worst outright incorrect, was an earnest and respectable scholar, and ought to be treated as such. In The American Inferno, Miller draws a stark contrast between what America is and what America could be. Miller bases his analysis of what America is on a walk through Manhattan, which he describes as a "grand human inferno, [and a] fiery and mediocre hell" (II). His argument is poetic in nature and his language flowery, but his argument amounts to a critique of hedonism, as Miller characterizes Americans as someone who forfeits pleasures of the mind entirely in favor of pleasures of the body. To rectify this, Miller advocates a return of the American to Nature, a task that proved famously fatal to the thinker himself.
Miller's argument has two central problems: (1) The implication that America was ever anything besides what it is, and (2), the idea that Americanism is limited to the endless pursuit of bodily pleasure.
First, America is not some pure unit of Nature. Instead, America is an idea, but it is a rotten core with a gleaming coating of liberty, equality, and justice. The core is subjugation, from the Indian to the "freed" slave to a redeemed land simply trying to farm. Nature is nature. There is nothing to morally distinguish a rock in New Hanover from a rock in Buenos Aires.
Secondly, American greed is not merely limited to pleasures of the body. No, it is all-encompassing, ravaging mind, body, and metaphysical concept. If Americans simply wanted to pleasure themselves, they would never leave speak-easies or brothels, and plunge themselves into an early grave. Americans obtain pleasures of the mind by dominating everyone and everything around them, whether it be land, other men, or beasts, all for a utilitarian notion of the "common good" that is incoherent to all but those who are in power.
Had Evelyn Miller met one of his supposed devotees, the outlaw Dutch Van der Linde (though Miller did meet and think highly of John Marston), he might have starved himself to death earlier. I have written and will continue to write about Van der Linde in greater detail, but his career as an outlaw can be summarized as follows: Colm O'Driscoll, the Skinner Brothers, the Murfee Brood, the Lemoyne Raiders, and the Del Lobos were each arguably more brutal, but they each had principles (or lack thereof) and stuck to them. Van der Linde committed the greatest crime of them all...hypocrisy. He claimed to be a scion of the social contract, and a fighter for the poor and downtrodden (especially before the Blackwater Massacre of 1899). One consistent theme throughout history is that people inevitably become more of who they really are.
Robbery after robbery, mass murder after mass murder, pillaging after pillaging, Van der Linde tore a destructive path wherever he went. So brutal was his rampage in 1899 that his adopted sons, John Marston and Arthur Morgan, turned against him. Morgan's attitude became increasingly antagonistic towards Van der Linde, increasingly referring to his "infinite wisdom" (Journal of Arthur Morgan). Morgan died of tuberculosis while attempting to rescue others, my parents among them, directly or otherwise, from Van der Linde's madness.
It is therefore infuriating, yet disturbingly American, that Van der Linde, a mere fourteen years after his suicide, has been immortalized as a heroic, Robin Hood-esque figure that fought for those who could not fight for themselves.
This is a country of ideological violence, so it is only fitting that it reveres the mass murderer instead of the penitent sinner or the redeemed father. A certain level of violence is justifiable for when justice or negotiation fails, but the United States turns it into a religion. Despite the country being increasingly characterized by peaceful lives, technology that makes seeing tomorrow likelier, and safe cities, it is men like Van der Linde who capture the imagination.
I may be accused of having too personal a connection to the subject matter to discuss it properly, but I am not the only one to make these observations. Prince Pytor Kropotkin discussed this at length in the Conquest of Bread, though I disagree with his connection between violence and property.
In the next chapter, I will address why socialism is an unsuccessful remedy to America's illness.
Note: Jack's views do not in any way represent mine, only what I think his would be.