The American and European Minds Compared:
An Essay in Definition
In connection with the present essay, Mr. Golffing writes: “The author spent his formative years in Central Europe and in England, before settling, in 1940, in the United States. His double focus—along with the inevitable distortions such a focus entails—may be attributed to his translation, at a crucial period of his life, from one cultural setting to another. He may plead in excuse that, having had the best of two worlds, he has also had the worst, and that any serious imbalance in his views bespeaks, simply, the limitations of his own temperament. The affection he feels for American culture is neither greater nor less than what he feels for Europe; rather, it is different, the quick response to a certain rawness in our scene which mirrors, perhaps, a rawness within himself: just as in his reactions to Europe it is his classical and humanistic self that pricks up its ears once the password is sounded.”
There can be no doubt about it: ours is an age most favorable to a general exchange of persons. With or without benefit of such agencies as the Fulbright Commission, writers, painters, teachers ply freely between this continent and Europe; cosmopolitan attitudes are the order of the day and any insistence on national characteristics or peculiarities is readily decried as parochialism. That this interchange has not yet reached the full proportions of a two-way traffic is due to material rather than psychological causes. Europeans today are as eager to explore the American scene as we are to explore Europe, and their relative lag (which, one often fears, may continue indefinitely) is strictly a matter of funds. For the European intellectual, with his chronic indigence, transatlantic travel is still an extraordinarily difficult enterprise, and in many cases entirely out of the question.
American intellectuals have certainly far greater opportunities of scanning a foreign scene, in all its complexity. It is fortunate that no comparable inequality prevails in the field of human relations. Whether as guest lecturers, or visiting artists, or simply as tourists, we mingle freely with like-minded Europeans and they with us. Provided both parties take the necessary trouble, they can get to know each other unreservedly and exhaustively, assess one another’s stature, and study such preconceptions and limitations as inhere, of necessity, in either culture.
The results of this mutual scrutiny are, as often as not, disturbing rather than reassuring. So far from making for a general rapprochement, the accelerated rate of cultural interchange seems to have led to an increase in national suspicions—bearing, in some cases, on mores and local custom, but more frequently on the essential solidity of what the other half represents: their attitude toward experience, outlook on life, call it what you will. Differences which, while viewed from a safe distance, seemed easy of composition now loom larger than ever and are made positively grating by close contact. The new familiarity has not bred general contempt, but neither has it promoted that intimate understanding which might reasonably have been expected; we are as wary of the manner in which the European mind operates as they are of our own mental, social, political operations, and not infrequently bitterness supervenes on this mutual caution. I shall try to show some of the reasons for that failure of communication, placing deliberate stress on those differences which seem to me so radical as to be, in all probability, incapable of thorough adjustment.
To begin with, the European intellectual exhibits a different structure of ideas and emotions. His ideas are organized hierarchically, while those of his American counterpart are most generally patterned in a lateral, “democratic” manner. Admittedly, there is an obvious temptation here to present the dichotomy as more clear-cut than the evidence warrants. Many American writers of distinction have adopted intermediate solutions, combining “vertical” and “horizontal” elements of structure in accordance with their peculiar temper or genius. Perhaps the most striking example of such an “adjusted ceiling” is provided by Emerson, who constantly tempers his supreme, ruling ideas by a democratic conviction that these ideas must never be allowed to become monoliths. His notions of the deity, of the supreme good, etc., are all conceived pluralistically, and this pluralism creates quite naturally a pacific rather than eristic intellectual climate—peaceful coexistence of ideas in the place of cold war. Take the following for an example: “God is our name for the last generalization in which we can arrive, and, of course, its sense differs today and tomorrow. But never compare your generalization with your neighbor’s. Speak now, and let him hear you and go his way. Tomorrow, or next year, let him speak, and answer thou not. So shall you both speak truth and be of one mind; but insist on comparing your two thoughts; or insist on hearing in order of battle, and instantly you are struck with blindness, and will grope and stagger like a drunken man” (Journals, 1838). More recent examples of what might be called “undogmatic hierarchizing” are to be found in the writings of Charles Peirce and Kenneth Burke.
Nevertheless, a general distinction can be drawn between the European’s affection for hierarchical movement and the American’s distrust of it. These different biases find their clear expression in the syntactical modes of the American and European intellectual, respectively. American styles of inquiry run to coordinative grammatical structures, with propositions easily juxtaposed and a wide use of connectives of the “and” or “but” variety, while Europeans—regardless of language and background—favor a vertical type of grammar with intricate and carefully graduated dependencies. In part, this difference can of course be traced to technical idiosyncrasies of the languages themselves, or to factors of personal temperament. Yet discrepancy of idea-structure is of major importance here, a point that can be proved without going outside the language at all; any close semantic comparison between British and American prose—will support it.
If this approach seems too formalistic to some readers, they need only examine the respective patterns of value judgment to arrive at the same conclusion. All European writers—including poets—tend to structure their ideas in a vertical sequence which terminates in a ceiling or “god term.” That “god term” may be either openly stated or implicit, “understood” by the audience to which the writer addresses himself, while, at the substantive level, it may either be spiritual (religious, morally assertive, etc.) or materialistic (atheistically or agnostically weighted, in any case subversive of “spiritual” values sanctioned by tradition). It hardly seems necessary to cite examples of the affirmative variety. Restricting the field for the moment to philosophy only, we are faced with an unbroken succession of spiritual ceiling terms from the pre-Socratic thinkers down to Heidegger and Sartre. From the cardinal and supreme elements (fire, water, etc.) in the early Ionian philosophy of nature to Kant’s categorical imperative, Hegel’s Weltgeist, Schopenhauer’s Will, Bergson’s durée and mémoire, Heidegger’s Sein, we find concepts—aptly embodied in master terms—which orient the process of inquiry toward themselves in a pyramidal manner. The basically equivocal character of such terms has repeatedly been pointed out, in our own day by Kenneth Burke, who would see all philosophical ceiling terms as synonyms for the godhead itself. This equivocation—or evasion—may be prompted by an unacknowledged taboo or by a determined effort to secularize the divine. Rarely, if ever, is the substitution of “profane” ceilings for religious ones prompted by the inquirer’s wish to functionalize a ladder originally conceived in substantive, hierarchical terms. Hegel’s Weltgeist and Bergson’s durée may seem to come close to energetic concepts in the contemporary sense, but even they denote reigning substances—finely attenuated and distributed substances, to be sure, but substances nevertheless. They both govern and coordinate all sublunary events, and their influence on what happens in nature is as pervasive as was the influence of the ether in earlier cosmologies. The notion that forces interpenetrate in nature without any pre-orientation toward a superior end is a notion that Strikes even those European thinkers who perforce admit its truth as extremely disquieting. Bridgman’s famous pronouncement: “We have seen that our meanings are to be found on the level of activities” is characteristic not of the pragmatistic approach only but of a spontaneous feeling shared—though the level of perception may vary—by the majority of Americans. Yet that same proposition caused a profound shock to my American-trained and mildly pragmatist students in the University of Berlin.
Negative or “subversive” god terms are less commonly encountered,1 but both the Darwinian and Marxist systems furnish ample evidence of such structuring. American thought has always mistrusted vertical arrangements of this kind, not only from an inductive bias native to it, but even more from a hatred—equally ingrained—of all feudal or aristocratic implications. The relative unsuccess of Marxism in this country may be seen as the product of a double suspicion: the suspicion of deductive reasoning, system-building, on one hand, and—paradoxical as this might seem at first glance—of feudal structuring on the other. The ultimate triumph of the proletariat seems to us no better than absolute kingship, of which it is the dialectical inversion. (To many Americans, this inversion has become a political fact in Russia. Others prefer to think that victory has been wrested from the proletariat by an oligarchy composed of military men, commissars, and other political careerists. This division in American opinion is of no consequence as regards my main point. Both factions view tyrannical overlordship with equal dislike, no matter who—one thinks—happens to exercise it.)
There doubtless exists a historical connection between the pro-feudal bias and deductive reasoning, as witnessed by such examples as Leibniz and Hobbes (and Marx, if we allow the first term its widest compass). This connection is generally recognized in this country but, at the same time, bowdlerized (except by scholars) to a deplorable degree. To the charge of intellectual tyranny another and even more damning charge is not infrequently added—that of utopianism, with utter disregard for the impressive Utopian elements in our own past (and the rather less noble Utopian strain in our present). Here the weakness of any purely national perspective becomes most sharply apparent. It is as difficult for Americans to disassociate system-building, feudal bias (both straight and inverted), and utopianism as it is for Europeans to disassociate a complementary triad attributed to Americans: exclusive reliance on induction, a tendency to “level down,” and pragmatism.
Respecting the first difficulty, I refer the reader to Lincoln Reis’s review of Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, which appeared in the June 1959 issue of COMMENTARY. There is no denying that many of the reviewer’s points are well taken: Miss Arendt does, on countless occasions, expose herself to criticism, both on factual and ideological grounds. The authorities she quotes in support of her arguments sometimes fail to support these arguments. But Mr. Reis would not let it go at that: he talks himself into a veritable fury of obloquy until Miss Arendt emerges, in the reader’s mind, as the contemporary exemplar of European pseudo-scholarship. The review makes lively reading, but its author sins by the very same lack of discrimination and proportion which he attributes, not unjustly, to Miss Arendt. None of the genuine insights of the book are as much as alluded to; moreover, Mr. Reis suggests very strongly that every attempt at synthesizing what the individual disciplines have discovered about our society is not only foolish but fraudulent; that the very concept of such a synthesis is Utopian, tyrannical, and so should be resisted by all right-thinking persons. Clearly, the unstated premise is that any talk about the nature of society—any society—is pointless, since society in itself has no nature but yields its meaning solely through an analysis of its activities.
Miss Arendt’s perfectly acceptly triad “Labor,” “Work,” “Action,” is accused of “not standing for separable activities,” and consequently discounted—in the manner of Stuart Chase—as empty word-juggling. Hegel is dragged in as the archetypal whipping-boy of enlightened empiricism, and saddled with the ultimate responsibility for Miss Arendt’s flights of dialectical fancy. Her rather complex attitude toward science and technology, too, comes in for its share of simplification, and the understandable concern she shows for the future of mankind is dismissed as “cultural pessimism” in the vein of Spengler. Her book, in short, is not a serious work of inquiry: rather “Dr. Arendt gives us a Sunday-supplement apocalypse; why should its tremors linger past breakfast?”
I am not concerned here with the merits or demerits of Miss Arendt’s book. What interests me is the style of Mr. Reis’s attack: his mixture of vehemence and insinuation; the contempt he expresses for what, after all, must have been a matter of some urgency to Miss Arendt; his denying of any scholarly qualification to an author who in the past has proved her distinction in more than one field. I should be very much mistaken if his real business were not to kill, by scotching a representative sample, that hydra-headed lust for speculative syntheses which, from Aristotle down, has been a peculiarly European obsession; to give vent to his anti-feudal animus (even if she were guilty of every other intellectual crime Mr. Reis charges, Miss Arendt can hardly be accused of “elite-thinking,” or of any wholesale glorification of the past); to lecture all Europe, via Miss Arendt, that “verbal identities do not necessarily point to identities in the world.” Over against the European’s arrogance in intellectual matters we have here a case of its American counterpart, more familiar to us but hardly more attractive. One would not like to choose between the systematizer and the debunker, especially when both parties are tainted by brashness.
Putting the shoe on the other foot, we find Matthew Arnold—and countless Europeans after him—fulminating against the American lack of structure, of discrimination in every department of life, along with an ingrained commitment to mercenary motives. With the single exception of D. H. Lawrence, whose extraordinary insight enabled him to redress the balance in the end, none of the distinguished European writers on America has succeeded in getting beyond first conceptions in his assessment of the American mentality. Credit is often given for widespread courtesy and individual kindness, but American institutions are usually condemned wholesale and the American people almost invariably described as more or less innocent victims of unscrupulous reigning cliques: financial magnates, newspaper owners, politicians. The benign dispensations of the Old World are sanctimoniously held up for supreme models, all attempts at an egalitarian society written off as “leveling.”
Here is Matthew Arnold: “The Americans are restless, eager to better themselves, and to make fortunes; the inhabitant does not strike his roots lovingly down into the soil, as in rural England. . . . They have produced plenty of men strong, shrewd, upright, able, effective; very few who are highly distinguished. . . . It seems that nothing will embolden an American critic to say firmly and aloud to his countrymen and to his newspapers that in America they do not solve the human problem successfully.” What Arnold resents most about America is its lack of interest and elevation; and the two lacks are clearly interdependent. “Everything in America is against the sense of elevation to be gained through admiring and respecting distinction. The glorification of the ‘average man,’ which is quite a religion with statesmen and publicists, is against it. The addiction to the ‘funny man,’ who is the national misfortune there, is against it.” He quotes Carlyle’s advice to a prospective emigrant: “You shall never seriously meditate crossing the great salt pool to plant yourself in Yankeeland. That is a miserable fate for anyone, at best; never dream of it. Could you banish yourself from all that is interesting to your mind, forget the history, the glorious institutions, the noble principles of old Scotland—that you might eat a better dinner, perhaps?” And Arnold adds: “There is our word launched—the word interesting. I but take note, in the word interesting, of a requirement, a cry of aspiration, a cry not sounding in the imaginative Carlyle’s own breast only, but sure of a response in his brother’s breast also, and in human nature.” Here is Dickens, in the American Notes: “It would be well, there can be no doubt, for the American people, if they loved the Real less, and the Ideal somewhat more.” The American Real, for Dickens, is identical, to all intents and purposes, with practicality; from this it is only One step to smart dealing, trickery. Trickery (that least respectable branch of the inductive method) is seen as one of our main national characteristics: “Another prominent feature is the love of ‘smart’ dealing. . . . The following dialogue I have held a hundred times: ‘Is it not a very disagreeable circumstance that So and So should be acquiring a large property by the most infamous . . . means, and notwithstanding all the crimes of which he has been guilty, should be tolerated and abetted by your citizens? He is a public nuisance, is he not?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘A convicted liar?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘He has been kicked and cuffed and caned?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘And he is utterly dishonorable, debased, and profligate?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘In the name of wonder, then, what is his merit?’ ‘Well, sir, he is a smart man.’”
D. H. Lawrence, though both shrewder and more sympathetic, constantly over-stresses the American uneasiness arising from camouflaged hierarchies and lingering taboos: “Liberty is all very well, but men cannot live without masters. There is always a master. And men either live in glad obedience to the master they believe in, or they live in a frictional opposition to the master they wish to undermine. In America this frictional opposition has been the vital factor. It has given the Yankee his kick. Only the continual influx of more servile Europeans has provided America with an obedient labouring class.” “Americans have always been at a certain tension. Their liberty is a thing of sheer will, sheer tension: a liberty of thou shalt not. And it has been so from the first. The land of thou shalt not.
The concept inviting the sharpest transatlantic opprobrium is not, as one might expect, our pragmatic way of thinking—though this too comes in for its share of obloquy—but our notion of democratic process (or personal drive). Over against our own facile and profoundly incorrect image of a European reasoning from inflexible premises and striving for impossible ends we find, fixed invariably in his mind, the image of the American as a robot dividing his working time between the compilation of senseless statistics and the glorification of mass rule; at best, as a type wholly will-driven and unblessed with the faculty of contemplation.
Much of this misunderstanding doubtless derives from incompatible notions as to the place of the imagination in the human scheme. The European does not question our imaginative strength as a nation, and he likes our art, architecture, literature well enough. But he can be heard to complain, time and again, of our total lack of imagination in the social sciences—especially psychology and political science—and of our tendency to plod where bold leaps and assumptions, or forestalled conclusions, would seem to be called for. Closely allied to the topic of imagination is that of fantasy; here too Europeans register strong disagreement. Outside the realm of technical fantasy, this country has never excelled in or deeply responded to the fantastic. The extravaganzas to which Disney and the comic strips have conditioned us strike the European intellectual as jejune or desperate: why such deliriums of fatuousness should elicit belly laughs (or genial, complacent smiles) is quite incomprehensible to him. What he suspects most in these exhibitions of mirth is the intense emphasis on speed and other quantitative relations, and the use of these elements only—to the exclusion of all qualitative vehicles of metamorphosis—for the alteration of everyday reality. The American non-sequitur differs from the Surrealist non-sequitur not so much in its disregard for climactic structure per se as in its ready recourse to cliché climaxes, which by supplying elements of the expected tend to destroy the very foundation of fantasy. Or so it would seem to most Europeans: men and women little awed by technical bravura in the service of stock effects, and disdainful even of the moments of pure fun that may be produced in the course of such high jinks.
But what Europeans really object to cuts deeper than this: it is our basic division of life into a serious and a humorous side, the former to be treated in dead earnest, the latter to be enjoyed thoughtlessly, with a temporary suspension of every normal criterion of value. Europeans don’t mind playing fast and loose with “serious ideas” or building cloud castles in earnest—activities much frowned upon in these parts.2 On the other hand, they demand an admixture of “meaning” even of their most innocent leisure-time fun. It is for this reason that European intellectuals visiting the United States find the tone which prevails at our cocktail parties not only vapid but positively obnoxious. Our studied avoidance of professional talk “after hours,” our propensity for good-natured banter on (mildly) festive occasions, our civil attempts at social gatherings to put by all private anguish or idiosyncrasy and strike a pitch of discourse that would be agreeable to the group as a whole—all these national conventions (and, to us, amenities) violate a deep-seated European prejudice: the prejudice (to them, judgment) that it is absurd for intellectuals to draw a distinction between leisure and labor, that the full exercise of the mind allows of no pause or respite, and that by talking to your fellow intellectual as you would to your broker or grocer you are making it only too clear that you hold him in contempt. In this, as in many other matters of social consequence, local conventions collide head-on. We cannot brook the Europeans’ misplaced solemnity, or they our misplaced levity.
Turning from values and convictions to methods of discourse, patterns of inquiry, we encounter another marked contrast between European and American practice, and a fresh source of mutual embarrassment.3 Since his order of values is vertical, culminating in a grand metaphor or abstraction, the European intellectual moves from rung to rung on his ladder: whether the movement is up or down makes little difference so long as both bottom and ceiling are constantly kept in view. This progression may be dialectically complicated by the use of the Hegelian method or it may be simplified until it comes to resemble the standard type of induction. But no matter what form or direction European discourse may take, it must always be anchored in some major abstraction. Its drift will tend toward that abstraction unless the abstraction itself can be used as a point of departure.
By comparison, the dominant styles of American discourse, from Emerson down to cur own day, seem free-Wheeling and intellectually casual, no matter how tight they may be in a purely formal sense. Their richness of lateral connections does not make up, to European observers, for a pervasive neglect of normative structure. Our writers on metaphysics and other purely cognitive matters lack conceptual rigor; the notable exceptions being C. S. Peirce who, characteristically, has had fewer followers in this country than in England and Central Europe, and Santayana, whose intellectual make-up was Mediterranean. Our native distrust of tradition—especially European tradition—has made us extremely skeptical of any act of high conceptualization: we suspect abstract ideas and abstractive language, or feel uneasy in their presence, while the European intellectual glories in them and shows a corresponding allergy to the realm of the concrete. Conversely, Americans favor generalizations (that offspring, not always legitimate, of induction) as another deployment in breadth, where the European intellectual would use those same generalizations with extreme caution, or not at all. There are important exceptions to this rule—the names of Spengler and Toynbee come immediately to mind—but I doubt that the rule can be seriously challenged.
This is not the place to attempt a comparative study of styles. But a further point needs to be made, which has to do with texture rather than structure. Good American writers are as concerned with precision and le mot juste as their European colleagues but, unlike their colleagues, deprecate any sort of spectacular writing, anything that might be classed—to borrow a phrase from the movies—as “special effects.” They would rather be admirably consistent than consistently admirable. They may strike out a provocative statement now and again, one Whose odd tilt or epigrammatic finish arrests the reader momentarily, but they avoid crowding their discourse with formulations which, by their brilliance, threaten to swamp its sobriety. Once again, there are notable exceptions: Thoreau and Emerson; in recent years, Kenneth Burke, Randall Jarrell, Mary McCarthy; but on the whole it can safely be said that American prose discourse aims for an unobtrusive surface, without exciting interruptions or moments that are linguistically memorable. This disregard or positive dislike for quotableness may be taken as still another sign of the anti-aristocratic bias referred to above.
Our trained eye for fact and the concatenation of facts; our sure grasp of such causal connections as are tolerably direct and available to the intelligence alone; our science-dominated training which makes us early aware of the pitfalls of inductive reasoning and teaches us to proceed cautiously, step by step—all these are virtues neither widely practiced nor greatly prized by European intellectuals, but solid virtues nevertheless. And our capacity for self-effacement—often resulting in our anonymity as writers—may be viewed as still another asset, whenever the subject treated calls for mental asceticism, a playing down of personal idiosyncrasy. It is for these reasons that we excel the Europeans in certain types of expository prose, though we may fall below their standard in others. Our most successful discursive writing is done by naturalists, top flight reporters or correspondents, field anthropologists (Boas, Sapir, Whorf) and writers on technical subjects, rather than by philosophers, critics, and aestheticians. Our news style, at its best, has no match on the other side of the Atlantic (though imitations of it can be found in abundance) and the same may be said of almost any other branch of literature where close documentation, a skillful, dispassionate marshaling of evidence, are the chief requirements. Clearly, our most conspicuous talents lie in the direction of descriptive, non-normative organization, and it is fortunate that our natural bent should make us desirous to stay, in the main, within the bounds of the factual.4 Whenever we indulge in idea-mongering after the European model (as we do, periodically, in our political oratory and journalism, and in our writings on ethics or education) we are liable to become diffuse, bathetic or simply uninteresting: neither our conceptual tradition nor our rhetoric is of the kind that will readily support forays into unstructured—or foreign-structured—ranges of inquiry.
Last, I wish to discuss briefly an aspect of the American-European tension which, while it pertains neither to values nor to modes and methods, has had a profound influence on both: the sense of time—past, passing, and future. American intellectuals, it is generally conceded, are future-oriented while the Europeans’ orientation is toward the past. But certain complexities arising from this basic division in attitude are not always clearly perceived. The European intellectual both admires and fears the past—deeply afraid that he might not be able to live up to its standard. (Or, in the case of “subversives” like Feuerbach, Marx, and Brecht, that its dead weight will crush us unless we remake or re-mint it. In these instances fear of the past predominates, but since it is mixed with awe, even with reluctant admiration, the attitude remains ambivalent. The Marxists’ fierce and tortured constructions of the future only complicate their time-stance further, by adding to it new elements of ambivalence.) The American is proud of the future possibilities of his country yet feels anxious about them. As for his past, his concern with it is tenuous by European standards: his references to say, the Revolutionary period or the Civil War are apt to sound hollow to listeners from overseas. (I am speaking of the average intellectual, not of the professional scholar.) If this observation is correct, it would indicate that the American intellectual’s severance from his past has been more thorough than the European’s, partly through Freudian repression of the pre-Independence phase, partly through his displacement of projective energy from past to future and the resulting atrophy of a particular kind of imagination. Europeans miss retrospective imagination in us, just as we deplore their lack of futuristic drive and their limited sense of forward plastic vision.5
These different time schemes go a long way toward explaining some of the cultural contrasts that were mentioned earlier, and others that were not: the home-made look of American philosophy, as against the smooth professionalism, heavy with precedent, of so much European thought; our rough-and-ready manners—the manners of people who cannot anticipate the fast of a relationship, only its present haphazard growth—compared with the formalities, both elaborate and cautious, of European courtesy; our instinctive trust in the other fellow’s integrity, until proof to the contrary is forthcoming, compared with European misanthropy; our unconcern with death, that most blatant and universal past fact which we try to expunge from our own future; our belief in the perfectibility of the human species which provokes such an acid response not from “original sinners” only but from Europeans quite generally.
The upshot of this inquiry is not especially heartening, nor was it meant to be. But neither should it give rise to any undue pessimism regarding the intellectual relations between America and Europe. In many ways (some of them ways of the mind) we seem to be getting along swimmingly—all too swimmingly. I have stressed the areas in which failure of communication occurs, and very probably will continue to occur, not because these seem the most important to me but because they are areas in which confusion has been allowed to reign unchecked; and if not confusion, bewilderment. The responsibility for this state of affairs is evenly divided between America and Europe. Once their specific differences are fully apprehended by the intellectuals of both cultures, there is hope—not of a final composition of these differences but of a relationship that would be fully complementary. It is not enough to know what we owe one another. For each needs the other, not only as creditor needs debtor, and debtor creditor, but for constant reference and correction; in short, complete humanity, integrity of experience.
1 e.g. Hobbes's state of universal war (bellum omnium contra omnes) Darwin's “struggle for existence,” “survival of the fittest”; Marx's “triumph of the proletariat”; at a metaphysical level, Heidegger's Sorge and Nichten des Nichts, which dramatize his positive god-terms, Sein and Das Seiende.
2 It has always seemed to me that what our neo-Freudians most strongly resent in the Viennese master is neither his pessimistic view of man nor his pansexualism (the points most generally stressed by adverse criticism from within) but his reckless system-building, which has resulted in such magnificent and unverifiable “inventions” as the Eros/Thanatos conflict and the Oedipus complex. Freud's bold hypostatization of such notions—which might have been acceptable to our national temper had they been presented as mere working hypotheses—struck his American followers at once as morally indefensible in a man pretending to the status of a scientific investigator.
3 The following discussion is concerned with non-scientific discourse only. In the natural sciences the distinctions I am trying to make either do not exist or can be dismissed as negligible, since both the working assumptions and the language of science have become international.
4 It is curious all the same that, with the superb example of Yankee irony ready to hand—the equal, in some respects, of what Gide or Kierkegaard achieved by this mode—our literary uses of irony should have remained so underdeveloped. Exceptions like Benjamin Franklin or Ambrose Bierce are few and far between.
5 An excellent statement stressing the positive value of our “futuristic” orientation is the following, by Katherine Hoskins, in Hudson Review, Spring 1959: “I can't pin it down, but that lack of the past is a part of the new element the U.S. has given the world. I sometimes think that our volatility, our lack of memory, our wastefulness and other qualities that seem weaknesses could be the virtues of two hundred years from now. I can imagine a new ethos, a different hierarchy of values into which our characteristics would fit. . . . A world more fluid, more abstract—Wherein all things are easily picked up, easily put down. A world without monuments and where one didn't save string, and of present rationality and charm. Wherein the ego has learned grace and poetry and uses them.”