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Tag: Sigmund Freud

America—A View From The French New Right

No one likes to be the object of criticism, Americans no more than any other people. And when someone is the target of criticism, he should not be expected always…

No one likes to be the object of criticism, Americans no more than any other people. And when someone is the target of criticism, he should not be expected always to agree with it. It is important, however, to comprehend that criticism, to take it seriously on its own terms, and not just dismiss it as inspired by malice, jealousy or ignorance.

The criticism that the French New Right (NR) has leveled at America has earned it an unjustifiable label of being inspired by some kind of hidden French chauvinism or “anti-American” phobia. And too often the New Right’s criticism has been poorly understood. Some Americans—who are themselves critical of what their country has now become and the way it has evolved—assume that the criticism is aimed primarily at the America of today. This is not true. The criticism the NR addresses against America is aimed, in fact, at the very foundation of what we call the “American ideology”—an ideology going back to the Founding Fathers. Or to put it differently, this is not a criticism of multiracial (or “multicultural”) America of modern and postmodern times, but primarily a criticism aimed at the America created by Whites and Anglo-Saxon Christians.

As a way of adding some final touches to Tomislav Sunic’s book, I’d like to outline the general thrust of this criticism.


Europe has never declared war on the United States. It is clear, however, that from its very beginning, the United States of America has had a score to settle with Europe. America was born out of desire to break up with Europe. What immigrant communities in the New World first and foremost desired was to dispense with the rules and political principles that prevailed in Europe. The American nation was born in a contractual form during the era of modernity, evoking largely the “primal scene” as imagined by Sigmund Freud: the children get together in order to kill their father and afterwards they draft a contract sanctioning the relationship between equals.

Evidently, the father in that scheme was Europe. It was necessary to make a clean break with the past in order to create a new humankind. Thus, in the Federalist Papers we read:

Had no important step been taken by the leaders of the Revolution for which a precedent could not be discovered,no government established of which an exact model did not present itself, the people of the United States might, at this moment have been numbered among the melancholy victims of misguided councils, must at best have been laboring under the weight of some of those forms which have crushed the liberties of the rest of mankind. Happily for America and we trust for the whole human race, they pursued a new and more noble course. They accomplished a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society. They reared the fabrics of governments which have no model on the face of the globe.[1]

Likewise, it was against Europe that in December 1823 James Monroe stated the central tenet of his famous “Doctrine,” that is, that no European intervention should be tolerated at any point whatsoever on the American continent. “We have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe,” exclaimed for his part the poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th century. “In many respects,” as Dominique Moisi and Jacques Rupnik remark,

America is anti-Europe. It was born out of desire to create a “new Jerusalem” on earth in order to overcome the limitations and errors of the European history.

Given that U.S. citizenship is founded on a contract between immigrants of diverse origins, it follows that all cultural idiosyncrasies must be relegated into the private sphere, which means that they must be temporarily held outside the notion of citizenship. This requirement perfectly matches with the individualist philosophy of the Founding Fathers. It was in America, for the first time ever, that a society was construed composed exclusively of individuals and not of groups, just as capitalism itself presupposed a brand of individualism oriented first toward the property possession.

Sometimes the indifference of the Americans toward history is explained by a relative short duration of the existence of their country. This explanation does not sound convincing. After all, two centuries is a long stretch of time. In fact, the problem is not so much that Americans “have no history” but rather that they do not wish to have one. And they do not wish to have one because, for them, the past is reminiscent of their European roots, which they once attempted to discard. “This is the only people without any roots and genealogy,” wrote, quite fondly, the liberal author Guy Sorman. Thomas Jefferson expressed the same idea by saying that each generation forms a “separate nation.” “The dead,” he said, “have no rights.” Daniel Boorstin, the former director of the Library of Congress, wrote that “the notion of hyphenated Americans is un-American.

I believe that there are only Americans. Polish-Americans, Italian-Americans, or African-Americans are an emphasis that is not fertile…. Americans prefer to be called by their first names and abandon the names of their heritage. The same applies to objects, the trend being toward the unsustainable and the disposable.

The same observation was made by Christopher Lasch, who wrote that in the U.S. “the removal of the roots has always been seen as the prerequisite for increased freedoms.” Hence, America can be described as a civilization of space and not a civilization of time. Its founding myth is not the origin, but the frontier, which in 1893 Frederick Jackson Turner interpreted as the most representative notion of the American ideal, that is, the aspiration toward “the conquest of space.” “What other people experience as history,” observes Jean-Paul Dollé, “the Americans perceive as a sign of underdevelopment.”

And the Americans did not wish to break up with only Europe. They also wanted to create a new society that would regenerate mankind. They wanted to create a new “promised land” that would become the model of the Universal Republic. This Bible-inspired theme, based on the idea of the “chosen” America, has, from its outset and by a purported divine choice, constituted the foundation of a “civil religion” and of American “exceptionalism.” It has kept resurfacing as a leitmotif throughout American history, ever since the days of the Pilgrims, as for instance when the Massachusetts Bay theologian John Cotton suggested the adoption of Hebrew as the official language for the former British colonies. John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which was founded in 1629, asserted:

We must always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us. Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us—and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill.[2]

Similar statements were made by William Penn, the chief of the Quaker colony of future Pennsylvania, only to be echoed by the settlers of Virginia. As early as 1668, William Stoughton exclaimed: “God sifted a whole nation that he might send choice grain over into this wilderness.”[3] For Daniel Webster, the United States is a “promised land,”

if indeed it be designed by Providence that the grandest exhibition of human character and human affairs shall be made on this theatre of the Western world.[4] Thomas Jefferson defines a single set of individual and collective rights for all men. Influenced by the doctrine of natural rights, these rights were held to be universal and valid in all times and places. On November 13, 1813, John Adams exhorted the Americans to “our pure, virtuous, public spirited, federative republic that will last forever, govern the globe and introduce the perfection of man.”[5] Even in 1996, the “conservative” U.S. Senator Jesse Helms exclaimed, “The United States must lead the world with the moral torch… and serve as an example to all peoples.”

The goal is not just welcoming the poor and the outcast, as proclaimed in the inscription on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she [Mother of Exiles]
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”[6]

The goal is also to enable the newcomers to take revenge against the country of their origin. And also to continue to proceed in a manner that would eventually lead the whole world to impregnate itself with the idea that the American society is the perfect society and that the descendants of the Puritans are God’s elect. Besides, it is the Puritan theology of the “covenant” that inspired the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, as put forward by John L. O’Sullivan in 1839:

Our national birth was the beginning of a new history, the formation and progress of an untried political system, which separates us from the past and connects us with the future only; and so far as regards the entire development of the natural rights of man, in moral, political, and national life, we may confidently assume that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity…. Who, then, can doubt that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity?[7]

In other words, if God had chosen to favor the Americans, they should be entitled to convert other peoples whichever way they see best and most expedient.

Hence, on the one hand we are witnessing isolationism—America must separate itself from the outside world, which is seen as corrupt. On the other hand, there is a need for the “crusade”—the world must gradually be penetrated with the universal values of the American system. In economics, free-trade policies have never prohibited the use of protectionism, whenever this was deemed necessary; similarly, in foreign policy, isolationism, coupled with the spirit of “crusade,” can march hand in hand. These are the two sides of the same messianic vocation and a typical example of how political universalism is just a mask for ethnocentrism, that is to say, a peculiar model with planetary ambitions.

This underlying certitude explains the extraordinary stability of the U.S. system. In the course of its history, the United States has known only one important political model, a model which has virtually remained unchanged ever since the days of the Founding Fathers. The Constitution, largely inspired by Locke, and generally speaking by the philosophy of Enlightenment, and vetted through Puritanism, has become a sort of sacred monument that makes of Americanism a genuine religion. Be they on the right or on the left, all Americans are in agreement that they have a mission to spread “the word” to mankind. Even the most frenzied utopians do not call into question the authority of the Constitution or the superiority of individual initiative. The system can be tentatively improved or reformed, but it must be remain fundamentally unchanged, insofar as it meshes with the very existence of the country. Whereas in Europe it is still possible to refer to some of the countless political models that existed in the past, the political debate in America reduces itself to discussions about the relative merits of Hamilton, Jefferson, Washington, et al. Fascism and Communism have never had any real impact on the United States, nor has the idea of counterrevolution, nor critical Marxism, nor revolutionary syndicalism, nor anarcho-syndicalism, situationism, etc. At universities, Political Science courses often evolve around long discussions about the work of the Founding Fathers, who are portrayed as people of unsurpassable legacy. Even the eternal debate between Federalists and Anti-federalists, between the Hamiltonians and the Jeffersonians, is, in fact, a family feud, which never calls into question the underlying political consensus.

American domestic politics is often reduced to a competition between the two major parties, which in the eyes of the Europeans say more or less the same thing. Electoral competitions, with their conventions organized as circus shows, are entirely dependent on money. “Democracy” in America equals financial oligarchy. The elections are financial effusions of the billionaire class. For the Americans, it is considered natural that politicians must be rich—in my view, society should be extremely skeptical of anyone who is rich and powerful at the same time—just as it is natural for the politicians to exhibit their wives and children in public meetings, while multiplying religious slogans in their speeches. In continental Europe, a head-of-state addressing his constituents with “God bless you!” and inviting the parliamentarians to a day of prayer and fasting would be viewed by many as a person ripe for the mental asylum. . .

The flip side of this institutional paralysis is formidable conformism and extraordinary monotony of a society that, decade after decade, asserts, with the same docile conviction, that America is a “free country,” while adhering to the same modes, abiding by the same conventions, repeating the same slogans, and, of course, wearing the same uniforms (jeans and T -shirts with a logo of a university that one never attended or a baseball team of which one is not a member). This monotony was already described by Alexis de Tocqueville, who noted that the sequence of commotion and fleeting fashions never augur anything new in America. About the same time the Countess of Merlin also remarked that life of the Americans is “an eternal course in geometry.”

The same messianic certitude inspires American foreign policy, whose main principle is that what is good for America must also be good for the rest of the world—which, in turn, must allow America to expect from its allies financial contributions and applause. As a secularized guise of the Puritan ideal, foreign policy is based on the idea that only the lack of information or the intrinsic evil of foreign leaders explains the reluctance of people around the world to embrace the American way of life. As Jean Baudrillard wrote, the United States is a society

whose naiveté can be described as unbearable and whose fixed idea is that America is the perfect completion of everything that others dream about.[8]

“International relations” is nothing but a global diffusion of the American ideal on the planetary level. Since they assume that they represent the model of perfection, American do not feel obliged to get to know others. It remains for others to adopt the American way. “The tradeoff is uneven,” observes Thomas Molnar, “because America has nothing to learn but everything to teach.”[9] And indeed, everything that happens in America must eventually happen elsewhere in the world. In other words, foreign policy has for a goal the creation of unified humanity no longer in need of any foreign policy. Under such circumstances one must not be surprised that setbacks encountered by the United States in the international arena are often the results of America’s inability to comprehend that other peoples think differently than they do. In fact, for the Americans, the external world (“the rest of the world”) simply does not exist, or rather it exists in so far as it becomes Americanized—a necessary precondition to become comprehensible.

Many observers have noticed the importance of religion in the American society. “In God we trust” is written on all banknotes, and since 1956, it has become a national motto. In the United States, almost all official ceremonies are preceded or followed by a prayer. As of 1923, the Reverend J.B. Soames declared in Washington, during a solemn blessing of the military equipment: “If Jesus Christ came back to Earth he would be white, American and proud of it!” Tocqueville already observed,

It is the religion that gave birth to the Anglo-American societies. One must never forget this; in the United States, religion is therefore intermingled with all the national habits and all the sentiments to which a native country gives birth.[10]

Religion is often redefined in an optimistic sense, consistent with the requirements of practical materialism and aspirations of the people who has never ceased to believe in the virtues of technology and who spontaneously assume–given that the sense of the tragic is alien to it—that somehow things will always sort themselves out in the end. The well known American professor Thomas L. Pangle, in his study on Montesquieu and his influence on the Founding Fathers, suggests the adoption of liberal, commercial republicanism and the spirit of commerce as the best regime

fundamentally opposed, not only to insecurity, but also to both the austere civic virtue of republican antiquity and to religious self-transcendence or otherworldliness.[11]

The bottom line is the reconciliation of religion with optimism inherited from the Enlightenment and embedded in the direction pointing toward the future and the mystique of progress. From John Winthrop to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the Americans have never given up on the belief in progress, which often leads them to the conclusion that material and technological developments will also bring about the betterment of mankind. In this world of ours, only through the hoarding of material goods can a person be saved. Hence the idea of “redemption” through the conversion to the American way of life. Calvinism had already tried to solve this problem of “predestination” by interpreting material success as a sign of divine election. The glorification of individual performance, the spirit of capitalism, the pacifying virtues of “smooth trade,” all of this nurtures hopes that the accumulation of wealth will someday erase all evil. Evil becomes a “mistake,” a state of imperfection that must be eventually surpassed by increased trade and economic “development.” From now on, it is no longer ethics that justify interests but interest that attempt to justify ethics. In his letter of 1814, addressed to Thomas Law, Jefferson wrote: “The answer is that nature has constituted utility to man the standard and best of virtue.”[12] One hundred years later, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes added,

the best test of truth is the power of thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.[13]

It seems that in America truth has become a commercial issue.
Televangelists preach the “prosperity gospel”—getting rich is a sign of getting saved—before making their constant fundraising appeals.

The Puritans had retained from Locke the idea that all other human rights derive from “natural right of property.” For Madison, “the first goal of the government” is to ensure the acquisition of property. In 1792, he said: In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.”[14] Rights are interpreted as inherent attributes of human nature, something that individuals possess because of their membership to the human species, and it is those rights that governments are bound to “ensure.”

The New Right totally rejects this notion of subjective rights, which are absolutely opposed to the traditional notion of objective law. In this view, law is an equity relationship, enabling everyone to get what he deserves. Similarly, the New Right rejects the idea that private property must be an absolute.

Such an idea of man was inherent to the foundations of a society, aptly described by Ezra Pound as a “purely commercial civilization.” His words echo Tocqueville’s:

The passions that agitate the Americans most profoundly are commercial passions and not political passions, or rather, they carry the habits of trade into politics.[15]

America is certainly not the first commercial republic in history, but it is the first one to have posited that nothing whatsoever should limit economic activities, as it is the cherished means of achieving the betterment of all mankind. Being on his own, the individual counts in so much as his external activity keeps growing. Naturally, only his economic performance will properly measure his worth. “In America,” wrote Hermann Keyserling, “people really believe that the rich are superior simply because they have money; in America, having money creates, in fact, moral rights.”

Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno observed from their perspective:

Here in America, there is no difference between a man and his economic fate. A man is made by his assets, income, position, and prospects. The economic mask coincides completely with a man’s inner character. Everyone is worth what he earns and earns what he is worth.[16].

Capitalist competition represents the most ethical tribunal: the rich are the “winners,” and the “winners” are the righteous. This is the primacy of civilization of having over the civilization of being.

Such traits do not lend themselves to meditative thinking and inner reflection. When the link to others is solely nurtured by the respect for material goods and the Dollar Almighty, the result is alienation with no bounds. For the Americans, notes Anaïs Nin in his diary, “it is a sin to have an inner life.” These words may sound excessive, yet they reflect the same conclusions made by the American Christopher Lasch. In the United States there is a consistent trend to believe that intelligence must be reduced to technical knowledge and that the fixation on economic matters should help dispense with the world of pure ideas. Whoever attempts to express an original and profound idea runs the risk of encountering the answer: “Don’t be so negative. Keep it practical! Stay positive!

For the Founding Fathers, the purpose of the government was to ensure the “inalienable rights” of individuals who were “created equal.” Thusly, political life was reduced to morality and law. The American dissident HL Mencken quipped that the very opposite was true:

The worst government is the most moral. One composed of cynics is often very tolerant and humane. But when fanatics are on top, there is no limit to oppression.[17]

In the United States, political action must always begin with a sudden surge of moral awareness (“Something must be done about it!”), which invariably leads to a “technical” examination of the subject matter under consideration. The law itself is a mode of expression that sets legal forms of moral characteristics inherent to the ideology of human rights. Hence, the extraordinary importance of lawyers in American politics, which Michel Crozier calls the “delirium of the proceedings” and “legal madness.” Meanwhile, the intrinsic superiority of private over public life must be loudly declared everywhere; “civil society” over the world of politics, business and economic competition over the common good. “An American, be he a government official or man on the street,” writes Thomas Molnar, “is convinced that politics as such is a bad thing and that people need to find something else in order to communicate and establish peaceful relations.”[18] As I stated above, the Americans are inclined to think that evil could disappear and that it is possible to remove the tragic trait of human existence. That is why they want to abolish politics, while at the same time bring history to an end. “America was constructed in order that it can exit history,” wrote Octavio Paz. The American “neoconservative” Francis Fukuyama believed to be able to announce its end.

Waging war has always meant for the Americans a morality “crusade.” This is why it is not enough for them to obtain military victory only. They must also annihilate the enemy, who is invariably depicted not as a leader or state that happens to be an adversary but as the incarnation of evil. Under the guise of “humanitarian intervention” or battles against “terrorists,” American wars are always “just wars,” that is to say, justa causa wars—and not wars against a justus hostis (“just enemy”). Hence, the enemy must be invariably described not just as the enemy of the moment (who could eventually also become an ally in the future), but as a criminal who deserves punishment and re-education.

The differences seem to be profound between the political thought in the continental Europe and the American mentality, marked by an economic, commercial and procedural view of the world, by the omnipresence of biblical values, as well as by technological optimism, contractualism, the language of “rights,” and the belief in progress.


I think I know the United States well, as I have sojourned there on many occasions. I have travelled in all directions, from Washington, DC, to Los Angeles, from New Orleans to Key Largo, from San Francisco to Atlanta, from New York to Chicago. I have, of course, come across a number of things that I enjoyed very much. Americans are friendly and welcoming (even if human relationship is often superficial). They have a tangible sense of community. Their biggest universities offer working conditions that the Europeans could only dream about. I can’t forget the influence that American movies had on me at a time when they were not limited to special effects or superhero nonsense. Especially impressive for me were American literature figures such as Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, William Faulkner, et al. But I also detect the reverse side of the “American way of life”: culture viewed as perishable commodities, or as “entertainment,” a technomorphic conception of human life designed to transform people into extended remote controlled terminals or computers, fake gender relations, automobile civilization and commercial architecture (there is more genuine sociability at an African local market than at an American supermarket—a prime symbol of Western nihilism), obese children groomed by television, glorification of “winners” and the obsession with consumption, fast food, a mixture of Puritans decrees and hysteric transgressions, hypocrisy, corruption, etc. Yes, I am aware of the risk of being accused of bias. But I must admit that for the America of “golden boys,” of “rednecks,” of “body-builders” and “bimbos,” of the “American dream” and cheerleaders, of “money makers” and “brokers” on Wall Street, I have no sympathy at all.

Is globalism today synonymous with Americanism? One is tempted to answer in the affirmative. The fact is that the United States has never stopped exporting its problems to the rest of the world, starting with Europe. In the opinion polls, hostility towards globalization is often accompanied by the rejection of American hegemony. Politically and culturally, globalization largely means a process of Americanization, as the dominant superpower continues to exports its merchandise, its capital, its services, its technology, but also its “industry of the imaginary,” its culture, its language, its standards of living and its own worldview.

But instead of Americanization, should it not be more appropriate to speak of “Westernization?” Many Americans consider themselves “Westerners”—with some of them even using the term “The West” as a synonym of the “white world” (politically a meaningless expression).

Etymologically, “The West” is a place where the sun sets, a place where things perish, and where history comes to an end. In the past, this term designated one of the two empires (pars occidentalis) born out of the dismemberment of the Roman Empire. Subsequently, the term became synonymous of the “Western civilization.” Today, like many other terms, it is in the process of taking on an economic aura as Western countries are primarily designed as “developed” countries. This is not a term, however, that I myself use in a positive sense. In my view, “The West” has now become the vehicle—in contrast to Europe—of a social model that has become a mirror image of nihilism. During my travels around the world, I have witnessed what happens to rooted cultures when they are affected by “The West”: traditions quickly turn into folklore for tourists, the social bond is undone, the folkways become utility oriented, the American language and the music permeate the mind, and the passion for money becomes overwhelming.

It is often understood by the expression “The West” the aggregate composed of the United States of America and Europe. But this aggregate, provided that it has ever existed, is already crumbling, as was noted some years ago by Immanuel Wallerstein.[19 The transatlantic gap widens every day more and more. Globalization, while exacerbating competition, reveals profound divergences between European interests and American interests. On the geopolitical level, the divergences are even more glaring—the United States is a maritime power, whereas Europe is a continental power. As was shown by Carl Schmitt, the logic of Land vs. Sea represents the two conflicting logics.[20] The Land is opposed to the Sea just as politics is opposed to commerce, the boundary to the wave, the telluric element to the oceanic element. Therefore, I do not identify as a “Westerner.” I am a European.

Seen from the angle of economics, capitalism was not born across the Atlantic, although it was there that it became incorporated into the national ideology: the primacy of contract, the downsizing of the state, the criticism of the “big government,” the advocacy of competition and free trade, etc. It is also in the United States that the concept of “governance” was born—firstly applied to business and then to political and social life. It must not come as a surprise that since 1945, the U.S. economy has become the central stage of the international financial system. It was the United States that established in 1947 the Internatioanl Monetary Fund (IMF) and General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), succeeded in 1995 by the World Trade Organization (WTO.) Those were the institutions that liberated capital movements in 1974 in order to finance America’s deficits. In the realm of financial capital, America still retains a much higher share compared to its industrial sector. It sets the rules for international trade, whereas its monetary policies remain the chief mechanism of regulating the financial accumulation across the globe.

Just like many Europeans, I am amazed that America’s self-titled “conservatives” defend, almost without exception, a capitalist system whose expanded methodically destroys everything that they supposedly wish to conserve. Despite the structural crisis that the capitalist system has experienced over the last couple of years, American conservatives continue to celebrate capitalism as a system that allegedly respects and guarantees individual freedom, private property, and free trade. They believe in the intrinsic virtues of the market, whose mechanism they cherish as a paradigm of all social relations. They believe that capitalism has something to do with democracy and freedom. They believe in the the necessity of perpetual economic growth. They think that consumption equals happiness and that “more” is synonymous with “better.”

Capitalism, however, is not “conservative.” It is the very opposite of it. Karl Marx already observed that the dismantlement of feudalism and the eradication of traditional cultures and values are the result of capitalism, which, in turn, drowns everything in the “icy water of egotistical calculation.”[21] Today, the capitalist system, more than ever before, is poised toward the over-accumulation of capital. It needs more trade outlets, more and more markets, and more and more profit. Well, such a goal cannot be achieved unless everything that stands in its way is dismantled, starting with collective identities. A full-fledged market economy cannot operate in a sustained manner unless people first internalize a fashionable culture, consumption, and unlimited growth. Capitalism cannot transform the world into a vast market—which, to be sure, is its main objective—unless the planet is flattened and all people renounce their symbolic imaginations and continues to indulge in a fever for the endless accumulation of something new.

This is the reason why capitalism, in its attempt to erase borders, is also a system that has turned out to be far more effective and far more destructive than Communism. The reason for this is that the economic logic places profit above everything else. Adam Smith wrote that the merchant has no homeland other than the territory where he makes the biggest profit. It is this logic of the commodity, inspired often by the United States of America, which the New Right firmly opposes.

March, 2016
Paris, France

Translated from the French by Tomislav Sunic


  1. Federalist Papers , No. 14, November 30, 1787. ↩︎
  2. John Winthrop, A Modell of Christian Charity (1630), Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Boston, 1838), 3rd series 7:31-48, accessed June 15, 2016, http://winthropsociety.com/doc_charity.php. Winthrop delivered this sermon on board the Arbella en route to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. “A city upon a hill” is a reference to Matthew 5:14; Jesus tells his listeners, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” ↩︎
  3. Election Sermon at Boston, April 29, 1669. ↩︎
  4. The Character of George Washington, Speech at a Public Dinner, Washington, February 22, 1832. ↩︎
  5. John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, November 15, 1813, ↩︎
  6. The Statue of Liberty was given to the United States by the government of France and established in its current site off Manhattan Island in 1886. Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus,” was written in 1883; in 1903, it was engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the lower level of the
    pedestal of the Statue. ↩︎
  7. John L. O’Sullivan, “The Great Nation of Futurity,” The United States Democratic Review, Volume 6, 1839. ↩︎
  8. Jean Baudrillard, America. ↩︎
  9. Thomas Molnar, L’Américanologie. ↩︎
  10. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume II (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 405-6. ↩︎
  11. Thomas L. Pangle, The Theological Basis of Liberal Modernity in Montesquieu’s “Spirit of the Laws” (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 100. ↩︎
  12. Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Law, Esq., June 13, 1814. ↩︎
  13. Abrams v. United States, 1919, dissenting opinion. ↩︎
  14. James Madison, “Property,” National Gazette, March 29, 1792. ↩︎
  15. Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume I, 273. ↩︎
  16. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, Gesammelte Schriften: Dialektik der Aufklärung und Schriften 1940–1950 (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fishcher Verlag GmbH, 1987). ↩︎
  17. H.L. Mencken, Minority Report: H.L. Mencken’s Notebooks , §327 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956), 221. ↩︎
  18. Molnar, L’Américanologie. ↩︎
  19. Immanuel Wallerstein, “Does the Western World Still Exist?,” Commentary, No. 112, May 1, 2003. ↩︎
  20. See Carl Schmitt, Land und Meer: Eine weltgeschtliche Betrachtung (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1942); Land and Sea: A World Historical Meditation (Candor, New York: Telos Press, 2015). ↩︎
  21. Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto. ↩︎
7 Comments on America—A View From The French New Right

Uncanny X-Men

Much has been written about how the superheroes of American comic books were developed largely by Jewish creators, and that within the symbolism of the comic book world, the popular superheroes were designed, often consciously, to represent Jews. According to this understanding, it has also been frequently pointed out that the “secret identities” of these superheroes are symbolic of the *crypsis* Jews have often felt necessary in a milieu of potentially hostile Gentiles. 

Occasionally, it has also been mentioned that the intrinsic moral code that motivates these superheroes to use their powers for good has its root in the notion of Jews being essentially benefactors of society or “a light onto nations.” Less has been written about the implication of their “super-powers,” that is, special gifts that the heroes possess and which are absent in the wider world they are charged to protect. 

And the super villains also have super-powers. . . 

Much has been written about how the superheroes of American comic books were developed largely by Jewish creators, and that within the symbolism of the comic book world, the popular superheroes were designed, often consciously, to represent Jews. According to this understanding, it has also been frequently pointed out that the “secret identities” of these superheroes are symbolic of the crypsis Jews have often felt necessary in a milieu of potentially hostile Gentiles.

Occasionally, it has also been mentioned that the intrinsic moral code that motivates these superheroes to use their powers for good has its root in the notion of Jews being essentially benefactors of society or “a light onto nations.“ Less has been written about the implication of their ”super-powers,” that is, special gifts that the heroes possess and which are absent in the wider world they are charged to protect.

And the super villains also have super-powers…

As the years have worn on, however, Jewish creators of these comic books have been more revealing about the Jewishness of their characters (and even its implications), much as Jews in wider society have felt less of a need to conceal their identity.

Clark wasn't really from Kansas.

Clark wasn’t really from Kansas.

In at least one important and salient case, a superhero is depicted openly as a Jew and with his fantastic powers deriving from—or at least being enhanced by— his experiences as a Jew, specifically, the suffering of the Holocaust. This character is “Magneto” of the X-Men series. Interestingly, this superhero is, for the most part, perceived a villain, albeit a very complex one.

Indeed, watching the rivalry between Magneto (Max “Magnus” Eisenhardt) and “Professor X” (Charles Francis Xavier), particularly in the films, one is briefly tempted to view the X-Men series as a somewhat politically incorrect addition to the comic-book canon. The films, being products of their time, are pro- multicultural and pro-feminist—featuring Mutant superheroes of both genders and all races exercising roughly commensurate super-powers and working to safeguard a liberal, multicultural world. But at first blush, they do not seem obsequiously philo-Semitic. The Jewish Magneto has been twisted and made hateful and vindictive by his experience in the Holocaust, and, to a degree, the audience is invited to sympathize with his plight. Nevertheless, Magneto is a terrifying entity: he not only sees human as his persecutors but as his inferiors, an outmoded species that deserves to be subjugated and displaced (maybe even eliminated) by the highly evolved Mutants. The WASPy Professor X, on the other hand, is depicted as the moral center of the X-Men universe.

Hence, if we take Magneto as the representative of Judaism in the series, are the X-Men pro-multicultural, yet anti-Semitic? (Or at least are they “anti-Semitic” according to the hyper-sensitive contemporary usage of that term, in the way that, for example, the ADL sometimes fears that the Democratic Party is becoming “anti-Semitic” when it makes vaguely critical statements about Israeli?) Does the X-Men series represent a break from the metaphor of Jews as benevolent superheroes—indeed, a break in popular culture from the depiction of openly Jewish characters as anything but benefic? Do the virtuous X-Men, opposing Magneto, represent the “talented tenth” of a multicultural society, instead of crypto-Jews? Are the X-Men “progressives” who will, with their greater intelligence and wisdom, lead the rest of humanity in an evolution to a multicultural Utopia, where everyone will be a uniquely talented “Mutant” regardless of race and creed?1

This seems to be at least the exoteric meaning of the Mutants’ multiculturalism. Though upon closer examination, there are more nuances at work here. To understand this, a good starting point would be to ask just who is Professor X, the leader of the Mutant coalition that seeks to avert Magneto’s plans for human subjugation? In the films, whether played by Patrick Stewart in his older incarnation or by James McAvoy as a younger man (both employing British accents), ethnically, he is apparently Anglo-Saxon. But this by itself is hardly definitive, as frequently characters who are not necessarily Anglo-Saxon are Anglicized in order to broaden their commercial appeal.

Indeed, Stan Lee, who developed the character, is understood to have taken Yul Brynner, an actor of Gypsy ancestry, as the inspiration for Professor’s X physical appearance in the comic book (though in fairer youth, Professor X is blue eyed and blonde as one can see in an accompanying illustration). To be sure, it is much more useful to look at the comics developed by Stan Lee, which form the basis for the popular film series. Here, one gets the strong sense that Professor X—whose very moniker suggests crypsis—is likely also Jewish.

The Origin of Professor X

The first clue comes in the form of Xavier’s biological father. In the original comics created by Stan Lee, we come to understand he is the son of a Nuclear Scientist residing in New York City, who had worked on the Manhattan project. The development of the atomic bomb was led and dominated by Jewish scientists, and in the popular consciousness, it is understood to be a largely Jewish achievement, summoning to mind names like J. Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein (whose real contribution was lobbying for the funding of the project). This impression is especially strong in the minds of American Jews, who might take pride in the Manhattan project as an example of Jewish scientists outwitting the German establishment, which unwisely excluded Jews and thereby failed to develop the weapon of global hegemony.

Another salient clue to the possible ethnicity of Xavier comes with the introduction of his stepbrother, Cain Marko. Cain is certainly an unusual name for Stan Lee to have selected for this character. It is, of course, biblical in origin. And unlike common Torah names like Isaac or Rebecca, Cain carries with it ominous, pejorative connotations. Hence, we can very reasonably assume it was meaningful to Lee. And as in Cain and Abel, a rivalry springs up between Cain and the young Xavier that becomes abusive.

“Cain” and Xavier

In Medieval Europe, the story of Cain and Abel was popular and, like the story of Jacob and Esau, was seen as describing the conflict between two archetypal characters—one Jewish, the other Gentile. At this time, however, it was the cursed Cain who was associated with the Wandering Jew, forced to drift for all of eternity for the transgression of killing his brother. Yet this meaning, like so much else in the Bible, derives from a process of cultural appropriation, whereby the original symbology is altered as it passes from one culture to another, from Semites to Europeans. In this case, the symbols have, in fact, been inverted so as to take on the opposite of the original meaning.2 It is likely that Cain was originally understood to be representative of the Gentile, whereas Abel, the innocent and wrongly slain Jew. In the story, Cain is not a nomad (or, at least, he does not start out that way until he is cursed); rather, he is a landed farmer. Abel, on the other hand, is the nomadic herdsman, the archetypal profession of the Jewish patriarchs and most ancient Jews. All interpretations of the story of Cain and Abel, whether Jewish or Christian, concur, however, that the one named Cain is the evil “Other” (possibly even the son of the Devil).

It seems possible, if not likely, that Stan Lee is making a distinction between Jew and Gentile with the introduction of this biblically named character, who is not related to Xavier by blood. It is also interesting to note that a great source of the conflict between the two comes from Xavier’s ability to read Cain’s mind, leading to Cain’s anger and resentment of Xavier. Whether deliberate or not, Xavier’s “mind reading” ability seems like a comic-book metaphor for Freudian Psychoanalysis. It’s worth noting that psychoanalysis was developed by a Jew (who was, by the way, highly conflicted about his own Jewishness), and for a century it has been enveloped in a certain urban Jewish culture. Moreover, Cain resentment towards Xavier seems metaphorical of that of patient towards his analyst, who, in effect, knows him better than he knows himself.

Interestingly, Cain eventually becomes the arch-villain “Juggernaut,” via the possession of an ancient Demon named Cyttorak, who, being one of eight such beings seeking to reclaim the world, could be understood as a god of the polytheistic pantheon. Hence, Cain the Gentile reverts to his evil Pagan roots. It is important to note here as well that Juggernaut is a superhero nearly opposite to Xavier, relying solely on brawn, not brains.

It is possible, however, that Xavier’s early conflict with Cain may never have been written. Indeed, Stan Lee had originally planned for Magneto and Xavier to be actual brothers related by blood, which would have unequivocally indicated them both as Jews, hence eliminating the mystery surrounding Professor X’s ethnicity. Though had he done this, he would have lost the opportunity to depict what very likely appears to be a parabolic conflict between Jew and Gentile, where Jewish brains (Xavier) triumphs over Gentile brawn (Juggernaut).

Xavier’s inaugural encounter with an evil Mutant, The Shadow King, whom he encounters in Cairo, is also of interest. The Shadow King, who here takes the corporal form of Amahl Farouk, an Egyptian crime lord, is understood as an entity of pure psychic force that “feeds on the hatred of humanity,” a force which possesses others and commands them to do his evil bidding. According to the backstory, he was born from the first human nightmare and exists as the explanation of all great human evildoing in all times and places. As a concept, he harkens back to Amalek, regarded in Rabbinical tradition as an enemy that reoccurs through all times, taking different corporeal forms: the Armenians, the German National Socialists, and the Palestinians have each been referred to by Rabbis as “Amalekites.” (For what its worth, The Shadow King’s Egyptian form, Amahl Farouk, harken back, phonetically and orthographically, to Amalek.)

The evil Amahl Farouk inspires yokels to oppose gay marriage.

The evil Amahl Farouk inspires yokels to oppose gay marriage.

Perhaps more important, however, is that the Shadow King is Egyptian and is encountered in Egypt. As the Bible relates, next to Cain and his descendants, the Egyptians were one of the great early archenemies of the Jews. But is this merely coincidence? Supportive of the relevancy of this detail is what Professor Xavier does after he defeats the Shadow King; like the Jews of the Bible, who escaped the God-smote Egyptians during their famous Exodus, Xavier travels to Israel.

In Israel, Xavier works at a psychiatric hospital where he treats the mentally ill, including the Jewish woman Gabrielle Haller, who has become catatonic because of her experiences during the Holocaust. Xavier cannot help but fall in love with her and eventually impregnates her, before leaving her in Israel on good terms. Their confused child becomes the arch-villain Legion, whom is known for his multiple personalities. Perhaps the schism between his mother and Xavier created these internal schisms within Legion, and they are not just personal but political.

In Israel, Xavier also meets and befriends the Holocaust Survivor Max “Magnus” Eisenhardt, who will later become Magneto. He and Magnus have long debates on the challenges that humans face with the ascendancy of Mutants. Magnus’s view of humanity is decidedly darker than that of Xavier’s, and he is insistent that humans will seek to oppress or eliminate this new minority, as they have done to others in the past. Xavier is more optimistic and believes coexistence is possible. Nevertheless, despite their seemingly opposed worldviews, the two become fast friends, and Xavier discovers in Magnus “a fascinating kindred spirit.” In fact, Stan Lee himself never viewed Magneto a villain, as he related in an interview.

I did not think of Magneto as a bad guy. He just wanted to strike back at the people who were so bigoted and racist… . [H]e was trying to defend the mutants, and because society was not treating them fairly, he was going to teach society a lesson. He was a danger of course … but I never thought of him as a villain.

Bigoted and racist?

The Great Schism

In the end, Professor X and Magneto’s views develop thusly: Magneto believes that Mutants or “Homo Superior” should be protected by any means and, intriguingly, should have a Homeland. The slaughter or enslavement of humans he sees as a completely reasonable means to achieve these goals. Professor X agrees that Mutants represent a higher stage of evolution—or, more precisely, a new people that must be identified and cultivated, hence the founding of Professor X’s “Gifted School of Youngsters.” He also concurs that humans are prone to destroy that which they fear and don’t understand. However, he ultimately hopes that Mutants can live in peace with human kind. In a scene from 2011’s X-Men: First Class, Xavier and Magnus concisely sum up their positions:

Xavier: We have it in us to be the better men.

Magnus: We already are.

Xavier and Magnus take separate paths.

Xavier and Magnus take separate paths.

For obvious reasons, Magneto has often been compared to Malcolm X, while Professor X to Martin Luther King Jr. (their respective monikers not withstanding). Indeed, MLK and Malcolm X were two figures that were doubtlessly on Stan Lee’s mind when he invented these characters in 1963. Though the radical Zionist Meir Kahane is also considered, likely more accurately, as inspiration for Magneto. Professor X, on the other hand, can perhaps be best likened to the Diasporic Jew, deeply interested in the safety and prosperity of his people but convinced this can be best achieved through peaceful coexistence, maybe even integration, with Gentiles.

Contrasting the two super-powers of Magneto and Professor X is also instructive. Magneto is a “materialist”: his attacks come in the form of matter (specifically, metal), which he marshals against his foes; his powers are thus almost necessarily violent. Professor X relies on reading minds and, frequently, mind-control (a most peaceful solution to any conflict if ever there was one). One is tempted to see in this the contrast between the Israeli Jew, armed with the gun, the missile, and the tank, versus the liberal, American Jew, armed with media, film, TV—and comic books!—who is able to neutralize potentially hostile adversaries through “mind control.”

Ultimately, the difference between these kindred spirits—whatever their disagreements and however they might tussle—might merely be one of strategy and not end goals; their relationship vis-à-vis humanity might be compared to that of Good Cop/Bad Cap or Diplomacy versus War.

One faction of the Mutants is openly hostile and dangerous to humans and, presumably always will be; the other faction acts as guardians of humans—and also of the Mutants (half of whom, again, are adversarial to humans). One wonders if Professor X is intended as a hero and model for humans and some “Mutants,” whereas the edgier and cooler Magneto is designed as a hero and model for other “Mutants.” (Humans are not allowed a hero of their own in the X-Men universe.)

Cynically, given the reluctant and often cozy nature of the pair’s rivalry, one might even view Professor X as “controlled opposition.” Maybe Magneto and Professor X, a latter day Moses Hess and Karl Marx, decided long ago that as Lenin put it: “The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves.” Invariably, Professor X was destined to seems like the “good guy” (after all, he’s controlling your mind!). He is thus a master a thousand times more effective than the one who endeavors to rule openly with steel.

We might have been friends!

We might have been friends!

Super Christians

What to make of the “X” in Professor X and X-Men? While ostensibly drawn from Xavier’s surname, given the context, its symbolism seems to stretch much further. “X” is certainly suggestive of rootlessness and non-identity; Malcolm X took the moniker as a symbol of his erased heritage, which was, ironically, the basis for his racial nationalism. When used by a person of presumed Jewish identity, “X” has an even deeper connotation of lost identity.

Certainly, an “X” in lieu of a last name has often been used by illiterates when signing documents. But for early Jewish immigrants arriving in America via Ellis Island, who were either illiterate or unfamiliar with the Latin alphabet, signing a document with an “X” could be seen as tantamount to disavowing ones Jewish religion. It is frequently reported that these immigrants, particularly those from Eastern Europe, associated the “X” with the image of the Christian Cross. Wikipedia describes:

The word “Christ” and its compounds, including “Christmas”, have been abbreviated in English for at least the past 1,000 years, long before the modern “Xmas” was commonly used. “Christ” was often written as “Xρ” or “Xt”; there are references in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as far back as 1021. This X and P arose as the uppercase forms of the Greek letters χ (Ch) and ρ (R) used in ancient abbreviations for Χριστος (Greek for “Christ”), and are still widely seen in many Eastern Orthodox icons depicting Jesus Christ.

Hence, among these immigrant Jews, there arose the practice of signing documents with “Os” (the slur “kike,” likely derived from the Hebrew word kikel, is thought to have its origin in this practice). Is it too much to see significance in the “O” in Magnet-O?

The “X” taken as an allusion to Christ (whether this was Stan Lee’s intention or not) is quite suitable for Professor X, who with his purported desire to save both “Mutant” and human is by far the more Christian of the two. Like Christ (perhaps the ultimate Crypto-Jew), Professor X is a Jewish character with a Jewish enemy, developed by a Jewish scribe for the moral instruction and guidance of a non-Jewish world. To wit: “Love thy enemy.”

And if the X does have this additional significance, does this also mean we should interpret X-Men as “Christ-men” or “Christians” in the manner we read X-mas as Christmas? Who knows? But perhaps it’s not a bad rumor to spread, whether it was an intended allusion or not. Doubtlessly the idea of the “Christ-men” versus the vindictive and antagonistic Jewish Magneto would, at the very least, cause fuss and moral angst among that particularly effeminate breed known as “fan boys.” Stan Lee himself could quash it … but then one could reasonably contend that the nomenclature arose unconsciously from a Jungian impulse … or better that Stan Lee was being evasive in the manner he appears to have been with Professor X’s apparent ethnic identity.

Professor X’s status as an invalid further establishes him as a Christ figure. Indeed, the villainous Alien that crippled him in the original comic book series was named, quite unsubtly, Lucifer. But his status as a disabled hero has a Jungian dimension as well. Christ is the wounded god, transfixed to the cross; Professor X is, likewise, transfixed to his wheelchair. The figure of the Fisher King, a being synonymous with Christ and appearing in Arthurian Grail Legends, is likewise lame and without the use of his legs. Interestingly, in the film X-Men: First Class, Profess X is injured by a human: when Moira Mactaggert fires a bullet at Magneto, he deflects it, unintentionally wounding his friend in the spine. The guilt is for Professor X’s metaphorical crucifixion is thus transferred, at least in part, away from super beings (Alien or otherwise) and onto humans.

Had Stan Lee been an open Joseph Campbell acolyte, à la George Lucas, we’d perhaps be inclined to suspect details like this were deliberate. Though maybe this is naïve … for as Stan Lee succinctly points out in an interview:

I have never been a Joseph Campbell follower. There are so many people who write so learnedly and at such great length about things that to me seem so obvious.

And the Midrash, too, offers insights for storytellers.

Return of the Gods

Whatever differences might exist between Professor X and Magneto, they are both in tiresome accordance with the zeitgeist: openly multiculturalist and therefore unavoidably hostile to the existence of European-derived peoples. Additionally, merely the idea of “Mutants”(often depicted in this series as misshapen, freakish beasts) as “Homo Superior” is distasteful and feels inherently degenerate. Even Nietzsche, who waxed about a “Superman”—and who, perhaps, inspired comic books as we know them with this term—made explicit his aversion to the idea that man should seek to become another species. A better version of the species? Certainly.

All this said, one is inclined to take solace in the fact that superheroes, who seem to grow more popular in film everyday, are inherently problematic for a monotheistic (in our case, Judeo-Christian) culture. After all, the superheroes that receive our reverence, “offerings,” and “tithing” at local movie theaters—which are no less than modern day temples—are tawdry bowdlerizations of the gods and heroes we’ve always worshiped. (Marvel’s bland “Thor” is the most explicit example of this, but he’s certainly not exceptional.)

Indeed, one is even, quite gradually, witnessing an Anglicizing of comic book characters in the works of Christopher Nolan and Zach Snyder. It’s an appropriation that reminds us of the Cain and Abel myth mention above, when the meaning of a myth is turned on its head. The common practice in comic books of “retcon,” retroactive continuity, that is, the alteration of previously established facts in the continuity of a fictional work, may even eventually explicitly Gentilize a character like Professor X (though, to be sure, this would mean destroying an interesting and illuminating backstory). Lord of The Rings, Braveheart, Gladiator, 300 and even the often lurid Game of Thrones offer glimmers as well of the gods seeking to return. Even Hellboy, with its charismatic “villains” such as the Elfin Tuatha De Danann, indicates the call of the gods, albeit through a hostile priest serving as medium. Dare I say that Harry Potter is a sign?

Perhaps one day, in a not-too-distant future, these modern-day temples will finally fill with the real gods in their true and noble form and offer services worth attending. What is lacking now is the bards of the scale of Wagner and Shakespeare to sing of them. And they are coming, getting better, getting wiser. One should remember, and take courage in the fact, that artists like Nolan and Snyder have to contend with very strong social taboos; but with bold and careful decisions, they have succeeded in creating popular art with radical-traditional characteristics. Perhaps social restraints are necessary for the creation of great art? Pressure, after all, makes diamonds. And there is potentially—not to sound vulgar—a lot of money to be had in restoring this particular priesthood. Hence, one should be keen to assist such artists who seem promising.

Could mass-media become community-forming, as opposed to community-destroying? Could what was formerly known as “Comic Con” become a Pagan festival on the scale of Bayreuth—an event attended not only by geeky “Cosplayers” but intelligent, cultured men and woman of all walks of like, who seek to honor the gods, the bards, and high art? Am I getting carried away?


  1. The original and early X-Men were exclusively White Caucasians. Nevertheless, one is inclined to wonder if, in becoming increasingly multiracial, the X-Men (and superheroes in general) can still represent Jews. To wit, whereas once it was conceivable for the adopted Clark Kent to have been a Jew “passing” as a Gentile, with African-American or Asian-American characters, this is now much more difficult … unless the metaphor becomes more abstracted similar to Steven Spielberg’s “robots” in A.I..

    With the X-Men, if one assumes, likely incorrectly, that there is still a concerted effort to maintain them as metaphors for Jews, it could be tenuously argued that maybe a certain amount of racial admixture is being acknowledged and condoned as will invariably occur amid host populations, provided the most gifted are drawn into the gene pool selectively as are recruited by Professor X into his “Gifted School of Youngsters,” and in the token proportions that are suggested by the largely Caucasian X-Men. The problem is that as comic books and the films derived from them become increasingly popular, they will invariably become less Jewish as both the audience they pander to and their creators become more diverse. This is especially true as their original creators die off and have less direct control over the brand. It’s a form of the same syncretism that also Germanized Christianity. In most cases this means more multicultural (i.e. the enlightened and gifted multiracial “talented tenth” mentioned in the article). The esoteric elements of this art will also likewise suffer as they are less comprehended, revised and/or take on less or more generalized meanings as occurred with Christianity.

  2. The story of Cain and Able is very likely itself an appropriation of the Egyptian Myth of Set and Osiris. And again the appropriation inverts the meaning of the original myth, making what was once the hero of the story, the antagonist and vice- versa. Osiris, like Cain, is associated with agriculture and is a rising and dying vegetation god like Jesus Christ. He is slain by Set who, like Abel, is associated with animals and was a god of foreigners. Interestingly, the name Set appears to be continued in the Jewish revision of the tale in the form of “Seth,” who is the surviving brother of Abel and who populates the earth alongside the presumably non-Jewish tribe of Cain before the flood extinguishes the latter. Notably, while Set is antagonistic in the Egyptian Myth, he is made “good” in the form of Seth in the Jewish revision. In Genesis 4:25, there is a “folk etymology” for Seth’s name, which derives from the Hebrew word for “plant” as in “plant a seed.” Hence, there seems perhaps a later effort, whether conscious or unconscious, to disassociate the name from the idea of a wanderer or foreigner, to say nothing of an antagonistic Egyptian god.
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Steven Spielberg’s Masterpiece of Kitsch

A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a film that suffers from some of the worst tendencies of the schmaltzy and declining Steven Spielberg. I will contend, nevertheless, that this cryptic work is, in its way, one of the most ambitious and disturbing efforts of two cinematic masters.

The film A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), a Stanley Kubrick conception that was midwifed into existence by Steven Spielberg after the former’s passing, was met with favorable, though mixed reviews upon its release. American moviegoers, probably expecting the kinder, gentler fare more characteristic of Spielberg’s defining works, were often nonplussed by what many found to be an odd and gloomy film. A.I. has, to a large extent, been forgotten, by both fans of Spielberg and Kubrick. Generally, I can’t disagree with this popular consensus; A.I. is an odd film, indeed. It is flawed in execution and suffers from some of the worst tendencies of the schmaltzy and declining Spielberg. I will contend, nevertheless, that this cryptic work is, in its way, one of the most ambitious and disturbing efforts of two cinematic masters.

Released in 2001, A.I. was visually spectacular, and it remains one of the more successful attempts at integrating CGI with live action. The film’s deeper meaning, however, is revealed through its plotting and symbology; to understand this, one should revisit its storyline, which fluctuates between futurism and fairytale.

A.I. is set in a world where the icecaps have melted due to manmade global warming. This has caused catastrophic global flooding and changes in weather patterns. As a result, most of the important coastal cities have been lost to the advancing sea, and populations have retreated inland. These changes have also led to a dearth of resources that has annihilated Third World societies. The survivors of the First World live in a civilization that is, on the one hand, full of techno gadgets and utopian material advances and, on the other, still scared by ecological and social collapse.

To meet labor demands, Westerners have invested in the development of highly advanced robots, which require much less resource to sustain than humans. Increasingly, these robots have come to closely resemble human beings, not only in appearance but in their ability to process reality.

The film follows the travails of one particular robot, or “Mecha,” named David (who’s played by the remarkable child actor Haley Joel Osment). David is a sort of “Adam,” a prototype designed to possess a true human sentience or, as described by his creators, “the [genuine] ability to love.”

David is introduced into a human family as a surrogate child. It is a family whose only son has been rendered comatose, suffering from a seemingly incurable condition. David, as programed, develops a strong emotional attachment to his human mother, and the mother, to him. One day, the family’s human child miraculously recovers and, when he returns home, a sort of sibling rivalry ensues between robot and boy. (In this rivalry, the human boy emerges as the the real villain; David, as designed, is nothing if not guileless, innocent, and kind.)

As part of this rivalry, the human child maliciously and subtly teases David by introducing him to the fable of Pinocchio, in which a puppet is turned into a real boy by “the Blue Fairy.” A seed is planted in David’s mind, and, unable to distinguish fairytale from reality, the robot concludes that if only he could find the Blue Fairy, he could be made human—and thus be loved by his mother in the same way she loves her flesh and blood.

Eventually, David unwittingly proves himself a safety hazard to his human sibling, and the decision is made to destroy the robot. However, the mother of the family is unable to execute the plan because of David’s uncanny likeness to a real child; she instead sets him free in a nearby wood. Devastated with grief, she imparts these final words of advice: “Stay away from Flesh Fairs. Stay away from all people… . Only Mechas are safe.” (The mother seems aware of the “inhumanity” of her people when compared to the gentleness of robots.)

Abandoned and alone, David clings fast to his hope of one day becoming a real boy and returning to his mother. Hence begins David’s quest for the Blue Fairy and his journey through a human civilization in deep crisis.

Despite his human mother’s warning, David is soon captured by a wild vigilante gang of humans. He is placed in an “Anti-Mecha Flesh Fair,” an event in which obsolete and unlicensed (undocumented?) robots are destroyed on stage in front of cheering throngs of humans.

While imprisoned and awaiting destruction, the naïve David asks his fellow robots for an explanation of what is happening. “History repeats itself!” is the answer he receives from a wizened old model, who goes on to explain that their persecution is a consequence of a conflict between “electricity and blood.” Here, David also meets his companion for much of the rest of the film, “Gigolo Joe,” a robot played brilliantly by Jude Law.

The anti-Mecha humans are a vaguely Midwestern and lower-middle-class lot (the tone of the setting is like that of a Country Music concert or tractor pull). They are led by a demagogue, who tells the crowd that it is the intention of the societal elite to replace humans with ever more sophisticated robots (a fear that will be dramatically vindicated). When it is David’s turn to be liquidated, he pleas for mercy: “Don’t burn me! Don’t burn me!” Both his cries and his uncanny similarity to a real boy sway the crowd, which demands he be spared. David (along with Gigolo Joe) thus barely evade being made a holocaust in the humans’ crude ritual. In a sort of “civil rights” moment for robots, the rabble rises up against its demagogic ringleader, allowing David and Gigolo Joe an opportunity to escape the pogrom.

Mecha at the Flesh Fair Mecha at the Flesh Fair

I don’t use the word “holocaust” frivolously. Is is an ancient Biblical term meaning “a sacrificial offering that is burned completely on an altar,” and, within the context of this scene and the film, Spielberg is likely evoking images of sacrificial offerings as well as the “Holocaust” of the Second World War.

Like David, Joe was also designed as a playmate, only he is for adults. In A.I.’s version of Sodom and Gomorrah, “Rouge City,” Gigolo Joe was employed as a sex toy for lonely middle-aged women. Joe’s “game” is, of course, crass and degenerate; but Spielberg also make clear that Joe represents a kind of upgrade on humanity. In Joe’s words, “Once you’ve had a lover robot, You’ll never want a real man again.”

Joe makes a point of relating this truth to David in front of a kitschy Catholic Church ensconced in the sin of Rogue City. According to Joe, the mortal women (shiksas?) go to the Church to seek their Creator, yet when they emerge, they invariably seek out Gigolo Joe for more earthly salvation. Importantly, the reason the robotic duo had stopped in front of the church is because David mistook an image of the Virgin Mary for the magical Blue Fairy. It is a comparison, I am certain, Spielberg makes quite deliberately.

Gigolo Joe is on the run from the law and is scheduled for imprisonment (he was framed by a jealous human for the murder of one of his return clients). And his words of wisdom to David regarding humans are similar in sentiment to the advice David received from his human mother: “They hate us, you know. The humans. And will stop at nothing to destroy us.” When David insists that Joe is wrong and that his mother loves him, Joe corrects him: “She loves what you do for her. As my customers love what I do for them. But she does not love you. You are neither flesh, nor blood.”[1] Joe continues,

They made us too smart, too quick, and too many. We are suffering for the mistakes they made because when the end comes, all that will be left is us. That’s why they hate us…

Despite his “sexbot” appearance, Joe makes a profound and prophetic assessment—and one that is the key to understanding A.I. The root of human hatred of robots is not so much fear as envy—envy of a superior “humanity.” Joe also foresees that the meek Mecha will inherit the earth. (Despite all this, David holds fast to the feeling that his human mother loves him and insists on continuing his quest to find the Blue Fairy.)

Later in the film, when Joe is finally captured by the authorities and being hauled away for extermination, he identifies himself, cryptically, to David: “I am.” Then, comically, as he is dragged away: “I was.” (This is not the only place in the film in which the dialogue and imagery shift away from sci-fi realism and take on a kind of fairly tale or esoteric hue.)

This expression “I am,” uttered as a self-identification, has a very specific religious meaning. It is the name that God uses to identify himself to Moses in the Hebrew Bible (Exodus 3:14), and it is a frequent expression in the Torah as the name of God. The Jewish conception of God is that God is synonymous, first and foremost, with the Jewish people; hence every Jew is also God (or a part of him). Is Gigolo Joe identifying himself as a Jew? Perhaps metaphorically … unless, of course, the robots are the metaphor.

Eventually, David’s quest for the Blue Fairy ends when he encounters her in the form of a statue amid the submerged ruins of the Coney Island amusement park. There he sits in a submersible vehicle, baptized by the ocean, vainly praying to this watery siren (an “idol,” which you’ll remember, has already been explicitly compared to the Virgin Mary). Alas, his innate nature is such that a “conversion” is impossible.

David's devotion David’s devotion

Two thousand years pass—the length of time between the birth of Christ and the making of the film—and the ocean freezes around him … as he prays, endlessly, hoping to become “real.”

After the ice age, David is excavated by a race of highly evolved Mecha. They are, in fact, Mecha descended from David’s own race of robots. Two thousand years later, carbon-based civilization has been replaced by silicon. Intriguingly, much like the aliens of Close Encounters of a Third Kind, in physical form, these advanced robots tend to remind one of emaciated prison-camp inmates, with an aura of both long suffering and benevolence.

The Aliens of *Close Encounters of the Third Kind* The Aliens of *Close Encounters of the Third Kind*

Soon it is revealed that humans have gone extinct. Anti-Mecha fears and Joe’s prophecies have proven accurate. Effectively, humans birthed a species that became better than themselves through scientific (or religious and “ethical”?) development. Man lost a competition for dominance in much the same way species may develop a subspecies of itself through mutation, and then lose a struggle for survival against it.

Tapping into David’s memories, these evolved Mecha are able to recreate the setting of his human home. They are even able, at his request, to resurrect his human mother through the DNA of one of her locks of hair (which David’s teddy bear companion has preserved). The rub: she’ll only last a day, at the end of which she’ll die. In a scene suggestive of rabbinical counseling, an advanced Mecha gently explains to David the terms of this interaction before gaining his consent. The ensuing scenes, where loving mother and loving child spend their last joyous but fleeting day together, like a macabre cereal commercial, are undoubtedly Spielberg at his most mawkish and manipulative.

When the mother passes away into oblivion at the end of the day, little David lies next to her in bed (in what, in Freudian terms, could be seen as an Oedipal victory over an absent father). David drifts off to sleep, suggesting that he has finally become a real boy … a mortal … which means that he, too, will cease to exist. As the narrator describes it: “And for the first time in his life, he went to where dreams are born.”

In embracing Mother—humanity, the Blue Fairy, the Virgin Mary—David has converted to a faith that promises a selfish personal afterlife, but which will ensure he does not inherit the earth, as do others of his kind.

So what has just happened here?

Is A.I. merely another cautionary tale of technological development gone amok? Is it merely an arty variation of “robot apocalypse” movies like James Cameron’s Terminator series?[2]

Or is there, as one strongly senses, a deeper metaphor at work? Who are these manmade robots? These rejected and cast-out Golems, who—unlike the Golems of Rabbinic fables (among whom Adam and Eve are included)—prove more intelligent and divine than their creators? Who are these beings that are both irresistible saints and irresistible entertainers (and smarter, more industrious and productive workers, endlessly capable of adapting, “progressing,” and evolving)? Who are these descendants of “David,” prophesied to inherit the earth while all other nations of man are cursed by God are destroyed (and destroyed in a flood of Biblical proportions)?

And what are we to make of the striking Anglo-ness of Jude Law and Haley Joel Osment? Is this casting simply an effort to more deeply conceal an esoteric message? Or is it an abstruse form of scapegoating (much like that carried out by the Gentile Martin Scorsese in the film The Wolf of Wall Street, in which Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Jordan Belfort)? (The term “scapegoating” derives from the ancient Jewish practice of figuratively placing the sins of the tribe onto a goat and then sacrificing the animal. Thus the goat, like Christ, dies for the tribe’s sins, thereby absolving it.) Or perhaps this casting speaks to how “robots” have come to so closely resemble “humans,” though not, as we learn, in their ultimate evolution? (Or maybe Spielberg simply wanted to get butts in the seats by casting cute actors?)

Whatever the case, Spielberg (using images and ideas from Kubrick) has created a work of potentially great longevity (despite its current obscurity), largely because he has imbued A.I. with esoteric elements analogous to those in Wagner’s Ring of the Niebelung, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and the ancient myths of Scandinavia, Rome, Greece, and Judea.

A.I. is certainly not high art; nevertheless, I imagine that it will have a staying power, whereas better films will prove ephemeral. After all, when one reviews the Biblical oeuvre, one is struck by the innumerable instances of crude, convoluted, unimaginative, and simply soporific tales—which have, nevertheless, remained touchstones in Jewish and Occidental cultures because they are imbedded in peoples’ ethnic and religious understandings of themselves.

In other words, Spielberg and Kubrick have created a story with an exoteric value— that is, the sci-fi, CGI-laden, sentimental “entertainment” that is consumed by the masses—and one that simultaneously carries an esoteric meaning—which speaks to those parties with ears to hear.

Kubrick decided well before his death that he would not be the director of A.I., and he considered Spielberg’s aesthetic far better suited to dealing with a child-centered story (which, as mentioned, even includes a robotic teddy-bear). Certainly, the “coldness” in much of the film (at least in comparison to Spielberg’s other offerings) would have been greatly magnified had Kubrick helmed the project (and it would have likely turned off a great deal of the movie-going public). As a director, Kubrick’s interests were never in “humanizing” protagonists; his cinematic world is one of “de-humanization,” in which landscape, color, and abstract ideas overwhelm the drama. Kubrick was also a master at wryly and caustically satirizing his protagonists’ “authoritarian personalities” (most notably in Paths to Glory, Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket).

Spielberg, on the other hand, had E.T. on his résumé, the heart-warmer about a trans-galactic immigrant who was more “human” than the humans. (E.T. was also a parable, and, in retrospect, Spielberg’s rehearsal for A.I..) This was likely Kubrick’s real motivation for selecting Spielberg: to create a protagonist that audiences could feel deserved, in some way, to outlive humans. And certainly, handing the film to Spielberg gave Kubrick’s vision greater salience in the world: more eyes would see it, and thus more kindred minds might understand it. Additionally, if the film was, in fact, intended to carry the esoteric message I’ve suggested, Spielberg is a most subtle vehicle for delivering it. Kubrick is a darling of film buffs and academics, and his works are picked apart endlessly for possible esoteric meanings.[3] A Spielberg movie, on the other hand, is “just a movie,” that is, art that can be passively absorbed by audiences and critics without undergoing much deep analysis.

A.I. thus represents a rare synthesis: the originator of the film’s mythos and ideas—which are shocking and disturbing in unmediated form—had the self-awareness and honesty to hand the project off to another director who, though inferior as an artist, was much better skilled at imbuing the film with entertainment value and “innocence.” And it is fitting that Kubrick and Spielberg carried forth this work together, like Biblical scribes, as it is a story bigger than either one of them. The exoteric myth of A.I. is that of Pinocchio, the puppet who wants to become a real boy; the esoteric myth is that of Exodus, in which the Chosen People must flee a persecuting and degenerate society, which is, afterwards, destroyed by “God” or “I Am”.[4]

Those who wish for a rebirth of Occidental civilization would be wise to follow this example and learn the importance of collaboration—and of finding the right messenger. A.I. is a masterpieces of kitsch. Let us strive to make masterpieces of high art!


  1. In the midst of this tirade, one is tempted to wonder if Spielberg feels the same of his audiences, for whom he furnished entertainment, moral instruction, and enlightenment, even while, perhaps, believing himself to be envied and reviled by these very same ungrateful hypocrites.  ↩
  2. In these films, Cameron predicts that Austrian-accented Nazi robots will inherit the earth … quite a different vision to Spielberg’s!).  ↩
  3. Incidentally, A.I. compels another look at the more opaque 2001: A Space Odyssey.  ↩
  4. In this effort, Spielberg and Kubrick remind me of a less cohesive, less complementary version of the Cohen Brothers, who are, likewise, deeply convinced of shared goals and through a effective, close, and egoless collaboration have brought into the world works they feel serve a purpose larger than themselves.  ↩
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