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Trans National America - Randolph Bourne

Dispensa per il corso di Storia degli Stati Uniti d'America del prof. Daniele Fiorentino. Trattasi del saggio del filosofo americano Randolph Bourne dal titolo "Trans-national America" pubblicato nel 1916, all'interno del quale l'autore rielabora il concetto di melting pot auspicando la creazione di una società cosmopolita aperta... Vedi di più

Esame di Storia degli Stati Uniti d'America dal corso del docente Prof. D. Fiorentino



nationalities are being educated in the amazing schools of Gary. I do not believe

that this process is to be one of decades of evolution. The spectacle of Japan's

sudden jump from mediaevalism to post-modernism should have destroyed that

superstition. We are not dealing with individuals who are to "evolve." We are

dealing with their children, who, with that education we are about to have, will

start level with all of us. Let us cease to think of ideals like democracy as

magical qualities inherent in certain peoples. Let us speak, not of inferior races,

hut of inferior civilizations. We are all to educate and to be educated. These

peoples in America are in a common enterprise. It is not what we are now that

concerns us, but what this plastic next generation may become in the light of a

new cosmopolitan ideal.

We are not dealing with static factors, but with fluid and dynamic generations. To

contrast the older and the newer immigrants and see the one class as

democratically motivated by love of liberty, and the other by mere money-

getting, is not to illuminate the future. To think of earlier nationalities as culturally

assimilated to America, while we picture the later as a sodden and resistive

mass, makes only for bitterness and misunderstanding. There may be a

difference between these earlier and these later stocks, but it lies neither in

motive for coming nor in strength of cultural allegiance to the homeland. The

truth is that no more tenacious cultural allegiance to the mother country has

been shown by any alien nation than by the ruling class of Anglo-Saxon

descendants in these American States. English snobberies, English religion,

English literary styles, English literary reverences and canons, English ethics,

English superiorities, have been the cultural food that we have drunk in from our

mothers' breasts. The distinctively American spirit pioneer, as distinguished from

the reminiscently English that appears in Whitman and Emerson and James,

has had to exist on sufferance along side of this other cult, unconsciously

belittled by our cultural makers of opinion. No country has perhaps had so great

indigenous genius which had so little influence on the country's traditions and

expressions. The unpopular and dreaded German-American of the present day

is a beginning amateur in comparison with those foolish Anglophiles of Boston

and New York and Philadelphia whose reversion to cultural type sees uncritically

in England's cause the cause of Civilization, and, under the guise of ethical

independence of thought, carries along European traditions which are no more

American' than the German categories themselves.

It speaks well for German-American innocence of heart or else for its lack of

imagination that it has not turned the hyphen stigma into a "Tu quoque!" If there

were to be any hyphens scattered about, clearlythey should he affixed to those

English descendants who had had centuries of time to be made American where

the German had had only half a century. Most significantly has the war brought

out of them this alien virus, showing them still loving English things, owing

allegiance to the English Kultur, moved by English shibboleths and prejudice. It

is only because it has been the ruling class in this country that bestowed the

epithets that we have not heard copiously and scornfully of "hyphenated

English-Americans." But even our quarrels with England have had the

bad temper, the extravagance, of family quarrels. The Englishman of to-day

nags us and dislikes us in that personal, peculiarly intimate way in which he

dislikes the Australian, or as we may dislike our younger brothers. He still thinks

of us incorrigibly as "colonials." America---official, controlling, literary, political

America--is still, as a writer recently expressed it, "culturally speaking, ,a self-

governing dominion of the British Empire."

The non-English American can scarcely be blamed if he sometimes thinks of the

Anglo-Saxon predominance in America as little more than a predominance of

priority. The Anglo-Saxon was merely the first immigrant, the first to found a

colony. He has never really ceased to be the descendant of immigrants, nor has

he ever succeeded in transforming that colony into a real nation, with a

tenacious, richly woven fabric of native culture. Colonials from the other nations

have come and settled down beside him. They found no definite native culture

which should startle them out of their colonialism, and consequently they looked

back to their mother-country, as the earlier Anglo-Saxon immigrant was looking

back to his. What has been offered thee newcomer has been the chance to

learn English, to become a citizen, to salute the flag. And those elements of our

ruling classes who are responsible for the public schools, the settlements, all the

organizations for amelioration in the cities, have every reason to be proud of the

care and labor which they have devoted to absorbing the immigrant. His

opportunities the immigrant has taken to gladly, with almost a pathetic

eagerness to make his way in the new land without friction or disturbance. The

common language has made not only for the necessary communication, but for

all the amenities of life.

If freedom means the right to do pretty much as one pleases, so long as one

does not interfere with others, the immigrant has found freedom, and the ruling

element has been singularly liberal in its treatment of the invading hordes. But if

freedom means a democratic cooperation in determining the ideals and

purposes and industrial and social institutions of a country, then the immigrant

has not been free, and the Anglo-Saxon element is guilty of just what every

dominant race is guilty of in every European country: the imposition of its own

culture upon the minority peoples. The fact that this imposition has been so

mildand, indeed, semi-conscious does not alter its quality. And the war has

brought out just the degree to which that purpose of "Americanizing," that is,

"Anglo-Saxonizing," the immigrant has failed.

For the Anglo-Saxon now in his bitterness to turn upon the other peoples, talk

about their "arrogance," scold them for not being melted in a pot which never

existed, is to betray the unconscious purpose which lay at the bottom of his

heart. It betrays too the possession of a racial jealousy similar to that of which he

is now accusing the so-called "hyphenates." Let the Anglo-Saxon be proud

enough of the heroic toil and heroic sacrifices which moulded the nation. But let

him ask himself, if he had had to depend on the English descendants, where he

would have been living to-day. To those of us who see in the exploitation of

unskilled labor the strident red leit-motif of our civilization, the settling of the

country presents a great social drama as the waves of immigration broke over it.

Let the Anglo-Saxon ask himself where he would have been if these races had

not come? Let those who feel the inferiority of the non-Anglo-Saxon immigrant

contemplate that region of the States which has remained the most distinctively

"American," the South. Let him ask himself whether he would really like to see

the foreign hordes Americanized into such an Americanization. Let him ask

himself how superior this native civilization is to the great "alien" states of

Wisconsin and Minnesota, where Scandinavians, Poles, and Germans have

self-consciously labored to preserve their traditional culture, while being

outwardly and satisfactorily American. Let him ask himself how much more

wisdom, intelligence, industry and social leadership has come out of these alien

states than out of all the truly American ones. The South, in fact, while this vast

Northern development has gone on, still remains an English colony, stagnant

and complacent, having progressed scarcely beyond the early Victorian era. It is

culturally sterile because it has had no advantage of cross-fertilization like the

Northern states. What has happened in states such as Wisconsin and

Minnesota is that strong foreign cultures have struck root in a new and fertile

soil. America has meant liberation, and German and Scandinavian political ideas

and social energies have expanded to a new potency. The process has not been

at all the fancied "assimilation" of the Scandinavian or Teuton. Rather has it

been a process of their assimilation of us--I speak as an Anglo-Saxon. The

foreign cultures have not been melted down or run together, made into some

homogeneous Americanism, but have remained distinct but cooperating to the

greater glory and benefit, not only of themselves but of all the native

"Americanism" around them.

What we emphatically do not want is that these distinctive qualities should be

washed out into a tasteless, colorless fluid of uniformity. Already we have far too

much of this insipidity, masses of people who are cultural half-breeds, neither

assimilated Anglo-Saxons nor nationals of another culture. Each national colony

in this country seems to retain in its foreign press, its vernacular literature, its

schools, its intellectual and patriotic leaders, a central cultural nucleus. From this

nucleus the colony extends out by imperceptible gradations to a fringe where

national characteristics are all but lost. Our cities are filled with these half-breeds

who retain their foreign names but have lost the foreign savor. This does not

mean that they have actually been changed into New Englanders or Middle

Westerners. It does not mean that they have been really Americanized. It means

that, letting slip from them whatever native culture they had, they have

substituted for it only the most rudimentary American --the American culture of

the cheap newspaper, the "movies," the popular song, the ubiquitous

automobile. The unthinking who survey this class call them assimilated,

Americanized. The great American public school has done its work. .With these

people our institutions are safe. We may thrill with dread at the aggressive

hyphenate, but this tame flabbiness is accepted as Americanization. The same

molders of opinion whose ideal is to melt the different races into Anglo-Saxon

gold hail this poor product as the satisfying result of their alchemy.

Yet a truer cultural sense would have told us that it is not the self-conscious

cultural nuclei that sap at our American life, but these fringes. It is not the Jew

who sticks proudly to the faith of his fathers and boasts of that venerable culture

of his who is dangerous to America, but the Jew who has lost the Jewish fire and

become a mere elementary grasping animal. It is not the Bohemian who

supports the Bohemian schools in Chicago whose influence is sinister, but the

Bohemian who has made money and has got into ward politics. Just so surely

as we tend to disintegrate these nuclei of nationalistic culture do we tend to

create hordes of men and women without a spiritual country, cultural outlaws,

without taste, without standards but those of the mob. We sentence them to live

on the most rudimentary planes of American life. The influences at the center of

the nuclei are centripetal. They make for the intelligence and the social values

which mean an enhancement of life. And just because the foreign-born retains

this expressiveness is he likely to be a better citizen of the American community.

The influences at the fringe, however, are centrifugal, anarchical. They make for

detached fragments of peoples. Those who came to find liberty achieve only

license. They become the flotsam and jetsam of American life, the downward

undertow of our civilization with its leering cheapness and falseness of taste and

spiritual outlook, the absence of mind and sincere feeling which we see iii our

slovenly towns, our vapid moving pictures, our popular novels, and in the

vacuous faces of the crowds on the city street. This is the cultural wreckage of

our time, and it is from the fringes of the Anglo-Saxon as well as the other stocks

that it falls. America has as yet no impelling integrating force. It makes too easily

for this detritus of cultures. In our loose, free country, no constraining national

purpose, no tenacious folk-tradition and folk-style hold the people to a line.

The war has shown us that not in any magical formula will this purpose be

found. No intense nationalism of the European plan can be ours. But do we not

begin to see a new and more adventurous ideal? Do we not see how the

national colonies in America, deriving power from the deep cultural heart of

Europe and yet living here in mutual toleration, freed from the age-long tangles

of races, creeds, and dynasties, may work out a federated ideal? America is

transplanted Europe, but a Europe that has not been disintegrated and scattered

in the transplanting as in some Dispersion. Its colonies live here inextricably

mingled, yet not homogeneous. They merge but they do not fuse.

America is a unique sociological fabric, and it bespeaks poverty of imagination

not to be thrilled at the incalculable potentialities of so novel a union of men. To

seek no other goal than the weary old nationalism, belligerent, exclusive,

inbreeding, the poison of which we are witnessing now in Europe, is to make

patriotism a hollow sham, and to declare that, in spite of our boastings, America

must ever be a follower and not a leader of nations.


If we come to find this point of view plausible, we shall have to give up the

search for our native "American" culture. With the exception of the South and

that New England which, like the Red Indian, seems to be passing into solemn

oblivion, there is no distinctively American culture. It is apparently our lot rather

to be a federation of cultures. This we have been for half a century, and the war

has made it ever more evident that this is what we are destined to remain. This

will not mean, however, that there are not expressions of indigenous genius that

could not have sprung from any other soil. Music, poetry, philosophy, have been

singularly fertile and new. Strangely enough, American genius has flared forth

just in those directions which are least [understood] of the people. If the

American note is bigness, action, the objective as contrasted with the reflective

life, where is the epic expression of this spirit? Our drama and our fiction, the

peculiar fields for the expression of action and objectivity, are somehow exactly

the fields of the spirit which remain poor and mediocre. American materialism is

in some way inhibited from getting into impressive artistic form its own energy

with which it bursts. Nor is it any better in architecture, the least romantic and

subjective of all the arts. We are inarticulate of the very values which we profess

to idealize. But in the finer forms --music, verse, the essay, philosophy--the

American genius puts forth work equal to any of its contemporaries. Just in so

far as our American genius has expressed the pioneer spirit, the adventurous,

forward-looking drive of a colonial empire, is it representative of that whole--

America of the many races and peoples, and not of any partial or traditional

enthusiasm. And only as that pioneer note is sounded can we really speak of the

American culture. As long as we thought of Americanism in terms of the "melting

pot," our American cultural tradition lay in the past. It was something to which

the new Americans were to be moulded. In the light of our changing ideal of

Americanism, we must perpetrate the paradox that our American cultural

tradition lies in the future. It will be what we all together make out of this

incomparable opportunity of attacking the future with a new key.

Whatever American nationalism turns out to be, it is certain to become

something utterly different from the nationalisms of twentieth-century Europe.

This wave of reactionary enthusiasm to play the orthodox nationalistic game

which is passing over the country is scarcely vital enough to last. We cannot

swagger and thrill to the same national self-feeling. We must give new edges to

our pride. We must be content to avoid the unnumbered woes that national

patriotism has brought in Europe, and that fiercely heightened pride and self-

consciousness. Alluring as this is, we must allow our imaginations to transcend

this scarcely veiled belligerency. We can be serenely too proud to fight if our

pride embraces the creative forces of civilization which armed contest nullifies.

We can be too proud to fight if our code of honor transcends that of the

schoolboy on the playground surrounded by his jeering mates. Our honor must

be positive and creative, and not the mere jealous and negative protectiveness

against metaphysical violations of our technical rights. When the doctrine is put




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Dispensa per il corso di Storia degli Stati Uniti d'America del prof. Daniele Fiorentino. Trattasi del saggio del filosofo americano Randolph Bourne dal titolo "Trans-national America" pubblicato nel 1916, all'interno del quale l'autore rielabora il concetto di melting pot auspicando la creazione di una società cosmopolita aperta alle minoranze etniche.

Corso di laurea: Corso di laurea magistrale in relazioni internazionali
A.A.: 2011-2012

I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher Atreyu di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Storia degli Stati Uniti d'America e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Roma Tre - Uniroma3 o del prof Fiorentino Daniele.

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Altri appunti di Storia degli stati uniti d'america

I have a dream - M. L. King
Democracy vs. the Melting Pot - Kallen
Letter from Birmingham Jail
Speech on Race - Barack Obama, 2008