Genius of America
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Genius of America.
By Herman Kuehn.
America has but one great poet distinctively American. Other great poets than Whitman, namely Whittier, Longfellow, Lowell of last century, and all the more recent poets, were inspired by transatlantic ideals. Their methods, their themes, their morals, their ethics and purposes are inspired by European models. Poe’s muse, though virile, and his forms of expression graceful, forceful and wierdly phantastic, fight as well have been imported from a Parisian studio. Nathaniel P. Willis sang us narrative and episode of Oriental mould. Whitman alone was, and is, American.
Whitman saw in “these states’“ something more than geographical area, or aggregations of subject-people. The genius of Liberty was to him the great cohesive power destined to make “Columbia victorious.” His was no narrow and narrowing “flag patriotism”—absorbed in the symbol and indifferent to the substance, such as the newspaper patriotism with which our weaklings are imbued.
His was the patriotism of heroic measure that could not be satisfied with less than that America should lead the world in love of liberty and reliance upon “the dear love of comrades” for social tranquility and industrial progress.
Whitman was a prophet of the coming era of the brotherhood of Man. It is coming. And America will lead the way. Not yet. not soon, but whenever it comes at all it will have been ushered in by the genius of America.
One requires no little faith in this genius of America to trust in its approach and ultimate advent. For. truly, there seems upon the surface of things little warrant for the hope. Turn where we may. in every movement and design for social betterment, we appear to be dominated by European modes of thought. The Republic is based upon European pattern. Our laws are avowedly Roman and British, and their interpretation becoming more and more reactionary. Our public officials seek and find popularity by aping European standards of rulership. “The never-ending audacity of elected persons” is applauded and acclaimed.
“Yet the genius of America lives and will yet prevail.
Be not disheartened, affection shall solve the problems of freedom yet.
Those who love each other shall become invincible,
They shall yet make Columbia victorious.
(Were you looking to be held together by lawyers?
Or by an agreement on paper? or by arms?
Nay, not the world nor any living thing will so cohere.)
The spirit of the Declaration of Independence appears to be dormant in our day. In that declaration spoke awakening America. Our republic was born of Insurgency. Our victory of Liberty against Authority made us prosperous. And in the days of our prosperity we became ashamed of the heroic insurgency of the fathers.
“Long, too long, America,
Traveling roads all even and peaceful you learn’d from joys and prosperity only,
But now, ah now, to learn from cries of anguish, advancing, grappling with dire fate and recoiling not,
And now to conceive and show to the world what your children en masse really are!”
The seed sown by Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Adams and their kind, will never run out.
“O latent right of insurrection! O quenchless, indispensable fire,
Revolt I leave in him I sing, and dedicate to Nationality.”
The spirit of sturdy America is dormant now. Even our so-called libertarians have reverted to European models. Socialism, which will be a power for the new era of brotherhood is still in its European swaddling clothes, and therefore inefficient, inept, illogical. American socialism is not yet due. When its time arrives it will awaken and reach full Manhood in a day. We hear much, indeed of Socialism, but it is a hybrid German-Russian exotic. Good enough, perhaps for Germany and Russia, as an authoritarian protest against autocracy, but authoritarian still. American socialism, when its time shall come, will appear full-fledged from the heart of Liberty, unsullied with any vestige of Authority.
Liberty alone solves all problems. The evils of liberty art’ to be remedied only by greater liberty. Authoritarianism never yet has served mankind, but has ever “held the word of promise to the ear to break it to the hope.” And still the servile instinct looks to Authority for help. And still the doctrines of “protectionism” take shelter under the guise of patriotism, and that sickly mummery holds vast masses of our people supine. And so it will be until we throw off the domination of European modes of thought, and European snobbery, and European acquiescence in Authority. With Whitman we may hope, and sing as no other American has sung,
“Liberty, let others despair of you, I will never despair of you.”
Herman Kuehn, “Genius of America,” To-Morrow 2, no. 7 (July, 1906): 27-29.