Wednesday, September 03, 2008

America #42

Given an old culture in ruins, and a new culture in vacuo, this externalizing of interest, this ruthless exploitation of the physical environment was, it would seem, inevitable. Protestantism, science, invention, political democracy, all of these institutions denied the old value; all of them, by denial or by precept or by actual absorption, further the new activities. Thus in America the new order of Europe came quickly into being. If the nineteenth century found us more raw and rude, it was not because we had settled in a new territory; it was rather because our minds were not buoyed up by all those memorials of a great past that floated over the surface of Europe—a movement carried on by people incapable of sharing or continuing a past. It was to America that the outcast European turned, without a Moses to guide them, to wander in the wilderness; and here they have remained in exile, not without an occasional glimpse, perhaps, of the promised land.

Lewis Mumford, “The Origin of the American Mind” in The Golden Day: A Study in American Experience and Culture (1926)