In 1899 Pope Leo XIII condemned an ideology he called "Americanism." The following are pertinent notes I took from Dr. John C. Rao’s AMERICANISM AND THE COLLAPSE OF THE CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES, you can read the entire thing online HERE, he traces the heresy of 'Americanism' through the rise of the atomizing individualism of Puritan thought to strip people of their real differences along with the push to celebrate patriotism as whatever idea's undermine authority, he begins by noting that early America exhibited :
“....a kind of materialistic “pioneer mentality” that manifested itself in varied forms. It is hard to exaggerate the power exercised by the image of a virgin continent, ready for conquest, upon the minds of excited Americans. An appeal was made to this image in the cause of “integration”. Loyal Americans were told to avoid divisive quibbling over “non-essentials”.
Americans were assigned a common national purpose: the attainment of a livelihood for themselves and for their families at previously undreamed-of levels. Hard labor and solid material achievement were held up as the true marks of patriotic spirit. Hard labor and solid material achievements, that is, that did not itself somehow disturb or demand too much of one’s neighbors and thereby become divisive; hard labor and material achievement regardless of their object or quality. Thus, in effect, potentially dangerous but sublime concerns were to be sacrificed to assuredly pacifying but mundane projects. The sacrifice was to take place on the altar of American unity, for the sake of the harmony required of “home”.
the attack upon the southern aristocracy in the Civil War, whose defeat removed the one class that was permanently controversial and wedded to principles other than the purely pragmatic and material.
It created the impression of establishing what has become known as a “pluralist” society, where many ways of life are “respected”. In truth, however, the manifold organs of Anglo-Saxon society and the spirit of Anglo-Saxon culture were “moderating” and “integrating” this diversity out of existence, slowly, peacefully, but surely.
.....native Anglo-Saxon Americans themselves were pressured into a gradual transformation of their own traditions. Anything threatening the adoption of the new groups soon began to be discouraged and renounced as much as immigrant particularities. Unity took precedence over custom, habit and even adherence to what was believed to be the truth. While seeking to integrate, native Americans were being integrated as well. Integrated into what? Into a “pluralist” society which could only survive by missing bits and pieces of the ideas of all of its component parts and by bending the entirety to the construction of a grayish culture serving the least common denominator in human material needs. A process was begun which has ended with the “integration” into American life of groups espousing perversities and determining how their needs and interests might help improve the GNP.
A process was begun which has ended in the glorification of the computer technician over the saint, media hype over substantive issues, and mass-produced hamburgers over the creations of the great composers.
America has made the “thoughtful”, the “spiritual”, the “committed” appear to be the province of either the “insane” or the “treasonous”.
How can man be saved according to its precepts? Only by an individual act of faith in God...
A dichotomy between the all-perfect God and totally wicked individuals allows no scope for the work of society in the divine plan. All men are like atoms in the face of their God, fundamentally alone in their approach to Him. “Atomism” is, perhaps, the most basic Puritan by-product. The presumption of communities and authorities like the Church, which claimed to lead men to God, became intolerable. Popes and bishops, seen in this light, must inevitably corrupt whatever functions they perform in this wicked world, and, hence, cannot be part of the divine plan. A “Church”, insofar as one must exist to perform symbolic functions and prayer meetings, thus becomes merely the instrument of a “democratic” congregation of atomistic believers.
Man’s efforts to transform the universe into a “mirror of God” become equally useless. Music, art, architecture, food and dress and everything else attempting to elaborate the beauties of a corrupted cosmos become an abomination.
Many Puritans drew the conclusion that the only way in which a God-fearing Christian might survive would be by fleeing as far from Babylon as possible, to the other side of the ocean, to ...a New Jerusalem, a City on a Hill living outside of and above the vain attempt to divinize the universe.
Secularization was promoted by Puritan Protestantism in three ways. One was by having supported tenets so inhuman as to drive men away from God in horror. A second was through establishing such a stark dichotomy between God and man as to throw into doubt the rationality of Christ’s whole mission, to deny the reality of the Incarnation and to retire the divine beyond man’s reach. The last was by so disdaining the world and ridiculing the possibility of its transformation as to liberate nature entirely from God’s direction.
the secular Puritan continues to understand men to be atoms, individuals in whose life society plays no true role. Just as a man was expected to make a private act of faith in God, he is now meant to make a private act of faith in his own “goals”, independently of his fellow creatures. Just as he once privately interpreted the Scriptures, he now must be “self-reliant” in his guidance of his own life. And just as the Church, with its panoply of authorities, was seen to be an unwarranted intruder in the relationship of the individual and God, all secular institutions are now condemned from the same standpoint. The state, the family, authoritative traditions in general and one’s pet enemy organization in particular, are all held to be guilty of a form of breaking and entering. Evil in and of themselves, they explain the persistence of wickedness on this planet and can only be tolerated if they exercise their functions subject to the free acceptance of individuals and through democratic structures analogous to those of the Puritan congregations. The present assault upon every aspect of authority, particularly visible since the 1960’s, is directly related to this attitude and cannot be understood without it. Secularized Puritanism and authority are mortal enemies.
Secondly, Puritanism can still be noted in the secularized American’s discomfort with efforts to transform the world into a “mirror of God”. This discomfort appears in two forms, superficially contradictory but firmly related at their root. Many Americans continue to anathematize “high culture”.
they develop a new type of “high culture” based upon the mad, individualistic ravings of their tortured puritanical souls. Their “cultural” creations are then guiltily justified by them with reference to deep biological or psychological needs. The one group of secularized Puritans adores the Big Mac as the height of human achievement; the other, a homosexual’s multi-million dollar sculpture of a broken toothpick. In short, the Puritan, after his break with faith as during its full fervor, is unable to grasp the principle of restoring all things in Christ. He manifests his inability in either philistinism or perversion.
Finally, the secularized Puritan cannot shake his conviction that the United States is divinely protected, the New Jerusalem
*We are now at the crux of the problem. If America, even in the mind of the secularized Puritan, is the City on a Hill, it would seem to mean that “home” is something worth protecting. But the “nation”, understood in a traditional sense, must itself be a stumbling block to such a mentality. It is a hindrance because it, too, demands respect for authority, whether in the form of institutions or in that of customs and traditions. The true patriot must put brakes upon his “self-reliance” and his atomistic freedom for the good of the country. He is obliged to recognize his inability to provide for himself and his family, to communicate sensibly with a sizeable community and to blossom as a personality outside of his cradle.
The dilemma may be resolved only by giving a new definition of patriotism in the New World, one that takes secularized Puritanism and its preoccupations to heart. A patriotism demanding sacrifices for the sake of the cradle, and thus placing impositions upon the individual, is seen as a wicked thing. But a patriotism which redefines love of country and makes it into devotion to a set of anti-authoritarian principles is another story entirely. A patriotism reminding man of his dependence upon his city, tongue, and fellow citizens, the dead as well as the living, is seen to be as shameful as it is despotic. But a “patriotism” eliminating all these images could make a magnificent contribution to the liberation of the human race.
*How could such a patriotism be developed? By transforming the prudential and, indeed, illusory phenomenon of pluralism into an iron-clad Pluralist Faith; by insisting that the nurturing of diversity as such is the only real purpose of government; by praising American institutions for working towards this end, despite the fact that, historically, such a goal has played no role in the conservative, Anglo-Saxon program; by then explaining that “God”, or whatever force a secularized man might find operative in the universe, had set up the United States and given it its Constitution and its wealth for the sake of propagating atomistic individualism. And, finally, by indicating that patriotism is also service to this cause. Patriotism no longer means protection of American institutions in the sense of their being the legitimate authoritative bodies ruling over men in this country, but protection of American institutions insofar as they help to crush the very principle of authority. Patriotism no longer means protection of American borders in and of themselves, but only insofar as they are the borders of that New Jerusalem established to destroy community and tradition. Indeed, seen in this light, everyone ought—and, indeed, must—establish American institutions and the “American Way of Life”. But, if, through some terrible apostasy, the City on a Hill were to betray its mission, everyone would then be obliged to be devoted to the humiliation of America, whether living in Moscow or Athens or Washington, D.C. True patriotism would then mean devotion to whatever other country takes up the cause of the Pluralist Doctrine. In this second, long unthinkable situation, the “patriot” must necessarily engage in what men throughout the long course of human history have always rightly called treason. And in whatever they do to promote this new form of “patriotism”, we shall see that they do not ensure freedom but, rather, the reign of pure force; the triumph of the will.
Since the powers-that-be claimed that atomistic democracy and Pluralism were their essential backdrop, the immigrants gave the Americanist Religion their genuine support. They were too tired from trying to “make it” to notice what a sham their supposed freedom really was in the Pluralist scheme of things. The myth of American liberty became their myth as well. Also, the “integrationist” insistence upon work and material achievement, although not intrinsically anti-patriotic in the old sense of the word, aided anti-patriotic secular Puritanism in practice. It forced men to act as atomists, to lower their sights from God to insurance policies, to flee from the centers of community life, regardless of the emotional costs involved, just so long as a dollar was to be earned elsewhere. The constant picking up and leaving that has long been a part of the American way of life had to destroy tradition, authority and a sense of commitment in a way that aided the secularized Puritan cause.
Americanism, however, also means “religious” devotion to the bland consequences of the Anglo-Saxon drive for stability. It entails devoting oneself not only to the cause of atomistic freedom, but to a rejection of the firm ideas and divisive behavior that can come from actually exercising freedom. The result has been that Americanism requires simultaneous commitment to atomistic diversity and integrationist unanimity. While praising individualism, an American is really expected to avoid it like the plague. American protocol insists upon a danse macabre, an insane ritual of exulting in liberty and behaving with herd-like docility, whether in politics, at work or in private behavior. The inherent paradox has been seemingly resolved by insisting upon twisting individual “creativity” to the development of vulgar advertising jingles, unisex clothing and broad, insipid, intellectual formulae for everything from philosophy to foreign policy.
Americanism promoted an atomism that sneered at true community life with its panoply of authorities and traditions as the worst of plagues. This atomism did not understand just how necessary community was to save men from madness. When this atomism infected country living, where such respect was often great and where it was perhaps most essential, it made rural existence intolerably lonely. It has now created the suburb. It has punished those who fled the structured community of the old city for the “freedom” of the outside world with the misery of lives spent on super highways and in soulless shopping malls. The drive towards individual space has led to the creation of vast tracts of “sameness” across the entire breadth of the land. Similarly, those who wished to remain in cities found themselves forced to apologize for their behavior with reference to “personal needs”, “unique life styles”, and an equally corrupt spirit of self-reliance. This “individualism” has been crowned by an insufferable and repulsive trendiness. If the suburbanite atomist is herd-like in his vulgarity, the city-dwelling atomist is machine-like in his obsession with pseudo-intellectual and cultural fads. Americanism is, to a large degree, responsible for their troubles, and Americanism is a principle of death; of life-long euthanasia.
This Pluralism breaks down commitment to all other ideas, establishing a purely materialistic harmony among pseudo-individualists. It has become one of the most effective means of oppression, repressing, as Marcuse says, by tolerating everything to meaninglessness and, therefore, to death.”
The atomization of man and of human society multiplies factions further and further. The most common and successful of such willful factions are those which the American system was disposed to produce by its history (i.e., sexual, commercial, and lunatic). Reason is itself rejected as a guide since that, too, is considered to be an oppressive authority. All of these factions are thrown back on their irrational wills to justify themselves and their life styles, while the meaning of “common sense” is expanded to permit them do so since their suppression could be “divisive” and disturb the peace.
The result is that Americanism makes us men without a country, just as it makes us men without an authoritative state, a network of real institutions with traditions and esprit de corps, men without a history. Americanism seeks to replace the nation with an ideology, patriotism with an ideological, fideisitic religion. But ideology cannot take the place of faith, the state, the city, the family and everything else of importance to national life. It cannot take the place of a real nation. And, hence, it leaves the American suspended in a limbo which the Americanist would have us believe is a model for the cosmos as a whole.
....it works ferociously against any faith that contradicts it. It cannot rest until is sucks all substance out of opposing creeds. But operating in the subtle way that it does, it prefers to destroy by reinterpretation; by allowing and even encouraging the survival of its opponents, so long as they redefine their beliefs and goals along Pluralist, Americanist lines.
She [the Church] did not disdain the principle of authority, the value of community, the wonder of the arts and the glory of the human body. Hence, she did not hand them over to man’s sinful tendencies to be shaped willfully, but, rather, sought to guide them to their proper fulfillment.
They discovered the true meaning of Pluralism in doing so. They understood that it did not mean adding their heartfelt convictions to an uplifting national dialogue. Instead, they saw that it signified adoption of sexual, commercial and other democratic obsessions, merged into a dull, drab, shapeless middle position, reflected by the character of their bedroom communities as a whole. Pluralism is the intellectual expression of Wonderbread. Catholics saw this and they grew infatuated with the horrendous reality of it. Soon, their love affair led them to a Wonderbread Liturgy, a Wonderbread Catholic school system and a Wonderbread theology, all dedicated to the glorification of secularized Puritanism. This is what Americanism always offered, and this is what Catholics finally obtained. It was a glorious acquisition.
Democracy, Pluralism and separation of Church and State had, it seemed, really done their job. They had given Catholics and their Church a full share in national affairs. This is true, so long as one underlines a harsh fact: those Catholics and that Catholic Church which were given a full share in national affairs were so defused by the Americanist Religion that they bore little or no relation to the believers and the Faith that the United States had so disliked a century beforehand.
- Dr. John C. Rao
AMERICANISM AND THE COLLAPSE OF THE CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES