Frye-BarbarianVirtues

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Unformatted text preview: gun—Tum“ p.55, m ,A , [I Introduction: Barbarism, Virtue, and Modern American Nationalism AHEN THEODORE ROOSEVELT penned these words, he identified a deep irony at the heart of American thinking at the turn of the century: his notions of barbarism and virtue indicate not only a pattern of extraordinary self-certainty and a contempt for national outsiders but also a plaguing~——if quieter—sense of self—doubt. On the one hand, the “civilization” embodied by the United States and Western Europe was plainly the state to which the world’s peoples ought rightly to aspire. Indeed, the unquestioned superiority of “civilization” itself justified virtually any policy that the “civilized” cared to carry out at the expense of the “savage.” In The \Winning of the My; (1889—96), Roosevelt had un—self—consciously identified the world’s unindustrialized regions as “waste spaces,” and he had scoffed at the notion that “these continents should be reserved for the use of scattered savage tribes, whose life was but a few degrees less meaningless, squalid, and ferocious than that of the wild beasts with whom they held joint ownership.” And yet, on the other hand, the “primitive” traits of vigor, man- liness, and audacity, in his View, had given way to effete overcivilization among the once—hearty Anglo—Saxon race; America’s rightful heirs were now q, UJAL\L)1LA\1OJV vrnluno so a a a a a a threatened by hordes of inferiors—immigrants at home and savages abroad. Civilized peoples’ pronounced social and evolutionary distance from savagery may have recommended their stewardship over the entire world, but a good dose of the “barbarian virtues” would still be required to carry out this grand project of “extending the blessings of civilization.” This book borrows Roosevelt’s suggestive lexicon of “barbarism” and “virtue” to examine American conceptions of peoplehood, citizenship, and national identity against the backdrop of escalating economic and military involvement abroad and massive population influxes at home. In the period between the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 (in. which the United States announced its power on the international scene) and World War I (in which it demonstrated that power), the dynamics of industrializa— tion rapidly accelerated the rate at which Americans were coming into con- tact with foreign peoples, both inside and outside U.S. borders. American political culture in these years was characterized by a paradoxical combina— tion of supreme confidence in U.S. superiority and righteousness, with an anxiety driven by fierce parochialism. As modern American nationalism took shape within an international crucible of immigration and empire—building, some of its harshest strains de— rived less from a confidence in American virtues than from a disturbing recOgnition of the baréarian virtues. American integration into the world ‘ etonomic system in this period of breathtaking industrialization exposed ‘a rather profound dependence upon foreign peoples as imported workers for American factories and as overseas consumers of American products— including “rat—eyed young men" from the shtetls of Eastern Europe, as the New Yank Timer once described them, and grass-skirted natives as far-flung as the South Pacific. In this respect, immigration and expansion constituted two sides of the same coin. Not only were massive population influxes and overseas interventions of various sorts generated by the same economic engines of industrialization, but public discussion of problematic aliens at home was of a piece with national debate over the “fitness for self- government” of problematic peoples abroad. Americans like Roosevelt often bristled at the general failure of the world’s peoples to adopt obe— diently the roles scripted for them by the nation’s economic require- INTRODUCTION 5 a v u a ments, and so beneath the unrippled surface of spread—eagled confidence was a nagging disquiet regarding these new transnational requirements them~ selves. Roosevelt’s “barbarism” and “virtue” provide the controlling metaphor for this investigation of U.S. culture, but the investigation itself focuses upon the point in the American political economy where industrialization and republicanism meet. It was the combined imperatives of production (the need for reliable workers and markets) and governance (the need for citizens deemed reliable) that gave the notions of barbarism and virtue their power— ful, if multivalent, currency. If Roosevelt and others identified a renewed, “strenuous” barbarism as a salve to the encroachments 'of modernity, the "barbarism” of national or racial “inferiors” also provided a ready—made ratio— nale for conquest and domination. If the delicate U.S. experiment in democ- racy required a particularly virtuous polity, then the nation’s very destiny as “steward to the backward races of the world” and as “asylum for the world’s oppressed” was fraught with peril. American greatness itself, in bringing so many “barbarians” within the nation’s compass, was corrosive of national virtue. This began as a book about transnational encounter; it gradually became a book about many other things besides. It is about the force of rapid indus— trialization, which brought the United States into increasing contact with foreigners by reorganizing the frontiers of labor migration and of export and distribution. It is about the theories of peoplehood and the visions of collec— tive destiny that attended these vast demographic and economic transforma— tions. It is about adventurer—politicians like Teddy Roosevelt, theorists like Lewis Henry Morgan and John R. Commons, and writers like Edith Whar— ton and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the ways in which their careers both fed and fed upon imperial encounters with “barbarism” and “savagery.” Ulti— mately, though, it is a book about the temper of American nationalism be— tween Reconstruction and World War I, and about the peculiar dependence of the nation’s trumpeted greatness upon the dollars, the labor, and, not least, the very image of the many peoples with whom Americans increasingly came in contact and whom they blithely identified as inferiors. These years witnessed the birth of modern American nationalism, but by 6 BARBARIAN VIRTUES s a a «a that I do not mean that there was a complete break with the political moods and practices that came before. On the contrary, looking backward across the historic landscape from the late nineteenth century, we find familiar enough antecedents to the American scene of the 18905—Manifest Destiny, the anti— immigrant crusade of the 18405 and ’505, Andrew Jackson’s policy of Indian Removal, even the Puritan dream of establishing a Godly “citty vpon a hill” for all the world to emulate. There was nothing altogether new in this period about the contact among U.S. citizens and agencies on the one hand and for- eign powers and peoples on the other. Indeed, it is important to see U.S. for— eign policy in this period as an extension of principles and trends long apparent in the conquest of the continent, or in the mid-nineteenth—century agitation for annexing Cuba and Mexico. A broad construction of the term “imperialism,” then—encompassing a mere projection of vested interest in foreign climes at one end of the spectrum, and overt practices of political domination at the other—is particularly usefill in identifying the underlying similarities among otherwise diverse international encounters. Likewise, the arrival of the “new” immigrants from the 18803 to the 1910s, like their un- settled reception, simply continued the massive demographic movements and attendant unrest that had been apparent since the dislocations of the early nineteenth century. What was new in this period was scale—the sheer volume of materials needed to feed the engines of industrial production and the volume of pro— duction itself; the sheer volume of population movements in response to this stage of maturing capitalism; the scale of government bureaucracies and their enhanced ability to survey territories, establish beachheads, wage war, and administer far—flung populations; and the scale of a burgeoning culture industry, which not only narrated these events for mass consumption but served up images of the world and its peoples that at once naturalized “large policies” and gave voice to the anxieties engendered by these grand designs. Though the story of encounter is a continuous one in U.S. history, various structural innovations and changes lent a particular cast to this period. I isolate the period from 1876 to 1917 not to argue its uniqueness to American history, in other words. It is telling that the 18905, the very decade that began with the “Battle” of Wounded Knee, the last massacre in INTRODUCTION 7 a 0 9; as s, ‘3 the “winning of the West,” ended with U.S. hegemony in Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. The culture of empire that had pre— viously characterized the United States reached a new level of maturation during these years. The development of a modern military and an adminis— trative state are two of the markers that set this era off from earlier periods of expansion; the degree of the nation’s economic integration into fully global labor and export markets is another. But perhaps most striking was what we might call the collateral damage of the imperial project during these years. To the indigenous populations af~ fected by such expansionist policies, the Louisiana Purchase, say, may have differed little from the occupation of the Philippines. The result in both in- stances was domination or death. But in terms of dominant U.S. ideologies and current notions of national mission and destiny, there was a big differ— ence: in 1803, Americans wanted inhabited lands for the wealth and the re¥ sources they held; in 1898 and after, Americans wanted various lands not for the sake of the lands themselves but for the path they laid toward a grandly conceived and devoutly wished China market. Filipino lives and rights, then, were a kind of collateral damage in the U.S. quest for something that had lit— tle to do with the Philippines per se. To most expansionists the archipelago was but a stepping stone to something more significant. The safety and con- cerns of Hawaiians, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Chamorros, and Panamanians, too, went by the wayside not because their lands held the imagined riches of a Louisiana, but because they were indispensable in the quest for an imperial infrastructure of shipping lanes, naval bases, treaty ports, and coaling sta— tions. This approach to entire peoples as pawns in a vast geopolitical game represented a heightened degree of imperialist vision, which was to become standard fare over the course of the twentieth century. Subsequent interven— tions in Haiti, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Vietnam all followed from a logic that had been operational in the Philippines in 1899 but not in Louisiana in 1803. The policy universe of today’s State Department would be legible to‘ Woodrow Wilson in a way in which it simply would not have been to Rutherford B. Hayes. It is worth noting, in this connection, that these turn—of—the—century in— terventions took place against the backdrop of a portentous reunion between 8 BARBARIAN VIRTUES o a a a the sectional combatants of the American Civil War. As Frederick Douglass put it in 1895, as far as the politics of race were concerned, “the cause lost in the [Civil] War is the cause regained in the peace, and the cause gained in the war is the cause lost in the peace.” The Reconstruction era’s profound philosophical revisions of the concept of citizenship—both Reconstruction’s radical promise and its crushing defeat to the forces of white supremacism— formed the crucial background for later public discussions of the many other peoples of color who were drawn into the political and social orbit of the United States. In order to rethink the texture of American political life, I have chosen to bridge various topics and scholarly orientations that are most often left separate. I depict immigration and foreign policy as two closely related di— mensions in the same realm of economic development and civic discourse, first of all. I also trace connections between the civic discourses on immigra- tion law and empire—building on the one hand and the cultural universe of academic evolutionism and popular exotica on the other, and between white (often “Anglo—Saxon”) dominance at home and US. national hegemony abroad. There is a danger, as historian Nicholas Thomas has observed, that, in investigating the Victorian era as a colonizing age par excellence, we may con— veniently overstate its distance from the “open liberal modernity" that pre— sumany characterizes our own historical moment. We may scoff at the glib chauvinisms of the era’s anthropological and political discourses, for exam— ple; we may take solace in our having defeated many of the ideas that drove the rapacious projects of an earlier day. My intent here is quite the opposite: the reformation of American nationalism in this cauldron of immigration and imperialism is worth looking at so closely precisely because neither the processes nor their results are safely fossilized in a bygone epoch. Our public language has changed a great deal, it is true; the civilities of public discus- sion in the post—civil—rights era generally do not allow a frank disparagement of “savages” or “Chinamen,” nor do they allow presidents and secretaries of state openly to muse on the fate of the world’s “waste spaces.” Bot, setting aside the niceties of public language, it behooves us to ponder the continu— ities between Roosevelt’s day and our own, and to consider the ways in INTRODUCTION 9 a g. a, a which—in the age of Border Watch and the Gulf War no less than in the age of the Immigration Restriction League and the Philippine-American War~ dominant notions of national destiny and of proper Americanism draw upon charged encounters with disparaged peoples whose presence is as reviled in the political sphere as it is inevitable in the economic. ...
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