Wednesday 22 July 2015

Paul Gottfried on U.S. presidents

Professor Paul Gottfried, the contrarian American political thinker, interests me.

He said that, unlike England, with its essentially medieval social structure, America was made by 
Protestant sectarians who neither had nor desired a medieval past and whose descendants have turned into celebrants of progress, commerce and human rights.
He thinks American historians skew their works to favour of modern political agendas. In The Managerial President he notes that 
All the major conflicts into which our leaders thrust us from the Civil War on, with the possible exception of Vietnam, are seen as morally desirable actions. … The U.S. is a land of morally driven, energetic presidents who have made us into the envy and dread of the world.
For such historians Lincoln is their great hero. Naturally they also like Franklin Roosevelt. This is the thinking that led to George W. Bush’s presidency and to Mr Obama’s domestic policy though not his foreign policy.

I have always liked Americans and admired very much about them - they are our children and their role in the world has been a very benign one on balance, but I have never liked American culture and Paul Gottfried explains to me why. 
 Progress, commerce and human rights depress him and depress me. Human rights used to be fine when they meant freedoms, the things protected in the first ten amendments of the U.S. constitution, but nowadays they are largely about restrictions on freedom. Age discrimination, forsooth!

For me, a sense of the past rooted in the middle ages or the ancient world are what makes daily life beautiful. Even in a country like Romania, where I live, which does not have old institutions or many old buildings and did not exist as a state till the 1860s. The absence of a tradition, the absence of a church, the absence of conservatism in the European sense and the absence of anything much to conserve make it very hard for me to love America. But I do love Frank Capra films and Garrison Keillor and the novels of Raymond Chandler.

Paul Gottfried also believes that America, which dominated Europe after 1945 from the military, economic and cultural points of view after 1945, gave Europe in the 1960s the idea that multiracial societies are good. If true it's odd since in the 1940s America was utterly white supremacist.

Professor Gottfried is a small government man. I don't know which side he prefers in the civil war but it seems to me that the USA stopped being a republic with very diffuse power with Lincoln.

Progressives admire Lincoln and think America's intervention in Vietnam was wrong, but the Northern states had a weak casus belli and could and should have avoided war, whereas South Vietnam was fighting something absolutely evil and was fighting in self-defence. But historians are like women. They are attracted to power and success. Had the Third Reich defeated Stalin and made peace with the USA and the UK, American and British universities would have had many fascist academics and very few Marxists.


  1. I do like the "envy and the dread of the world".
    Gross generalisation, probably wrong, but it would explain why Americans love John Wayne so much and the Europeans fall for the much more morally ambiguous Clint Eastwood.

    Dominic Johnson


    this happens because of people like you