Preface to This American World, by Edgar Ansel Mowrer
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490 ] Preface to This American World, by Edgar Ansel Mowrer London: Faber & Gwyer, 1928. Pp. xv + 254; Preface, ix-xv.1 The national and racial self-consciousness of our time, with its various transformations since the war, has provided the subject-matter for a great number of books of a new sort. The literature of Bolshevism has been followed by the literature of Fascism, and neither of these subjects appears to be exhausted.2 The literature of Americanism, though never concerned with phenomena of such momentary excitement as the two former, has been steadily accumulating. It is for the most part of two kinds: books written by Americans in criticism of their society, and books written by more or less intelligent Europeans. The first kind varies infinitely, as the names of Mencken, Van Wyck Brooks, Sherman and Irving Babbitt testify; the latter kind varies from the casual notes of some eminent novelist on a lecture tour, totheconscientioussurveyofM.AndréSiegfried.3 ImentionM.Siegfried’s book with design, for it is not only one of the best of its kind, but forms a useful counterpart to this book by Mr. Mowrer, which however falls into neither category.4 Siegfried’s book is a carefully documented study of the social, political and economic life of America, observed as something distinct from Europe. Mr. Mowrer’s book is rather a study in the philosophy of history, in the same sense as the work of Spengler, but written with a lighter hand and with no hard and fast theory into which to fit his facts. It isastudyofthefutureofAmericanismbothwithinandoutsideofAmerica. In this last qualification lies, I consider, the peculiar interest of the book. The majority of American criticisms of America, however intelligent, suffer from a preoccupation with the local aspects of the problems. And so, in another way, do most foreign criticisms. The majority of foreigners think either of Americanization as something to be welcomed and exploited, or as a plague to be quarantined; and either point of view is apt to be superficial . Mr. Mowrer goes farther. He inquires into the origin, as well as the nature, of Americanism; traces it back to Europe; and finds that what are supposed to be the specifically American qualities and vices, are merely the European qualities and vices given a new growth in a different soil. Europe, therefore, in accepting American contributions the danger of which Mr. Mowrer certainly does not palliate, has contracted a malady the [ 491 Preface to This American World germs of which were bred in her own system. Americanization, in short, would probably have happened anyway; America itself has merely accelerated the process. This is an idea which must have occurred to many thoughtful minds, but which has never been so fully and cogently developed as here. In order to make his point, the author is obliged first to define and criticize the qualities and defects of America. This work has been done before, though never (by an American) more clearly or better in a short space. Mr. Mowrer is a shrewd observer, and his observation is given greater force and more particular interest by the brief account of his own origins and beginnings, and the American history of his own family, which he appends to this part of the book. It is a typical case of the history of the families of “Anglo Saxon” origin which have penetrated the Middle West and the West Coast. The author is the descendant of pioneers. There is much reason in the distinction which he draws in the following passage: Not to have the frontier in one’s blood makes emotional understanding of the United States impossible. On this account Americans divide into two groups, the older stocks and the new-comers. The latter are strong in the cities. They almost monopolize certain branches of our life, they dress, conduct themselves, talk and think like the descendants of old settlers – but they do not feel as they. That is why so much that is admirable in American arts and letters, the work of the later arrivals, does not touch the older stocks, why to the “sixth generation American” New York often seems as alien as Vienna or Amsterdam. [61] This statement is, broadly speaking, true, but I should make two reservations : that the newcomers have not all gone to the cities – witness in New England alone, the Portuguese in the fishing industry, and the Portuguese and Italians in suburban market-gardening; and what is more important, that those branches of...


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