Mythology has long allowed cultures to connect with and find meaning in their past, encouraged them to work in the present, and taught them to hope for their future. By grounding individuals in their environment and tying them to their community, myth served as the grounding for nearly all cultures and civilizations throughout the Ancient and pre-Modern world. Myth teaches morals, and a civilization without a strong virtuous foundation is likely to fail.
Nothing is sacred in many parts of our country today. Any form of authenticity is increasingly deconstructed and re-appropriated for further deconstruction. Our modern culture is focused on the immediate, without a desire for longevity or permanence. History is among the greatest victims of our collective abandonment of the past, particularly the men and women who made our nation what it is today. Our monuments, statues, and other visual reminders of our nation’s past are torn down and subject to attack from our media and education systems. Even the education of our youth has become nothing more than an experimentation in critical theory, as exemplified by the implementation of the the New York Times’ “1619 Project” into public school curriculum, which denigrates America’s founders and instead teaches the deconstructive notion that America is nothing more than a racist nation. America’s rejection of sacred tales and historical monuments has led to what could be fittingly called the death of the American mythos.
We no longer venerate heroes or their heroic acts, and, in doing so, we have eliminated the opportunity for new heroes to emerge. It may be useful to bring into conversation the Japanese-American political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, who famously stated, upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union, that the ‘end of history’ was upon the world. In a sense, he was correct. History, as Thomas Carlyle noted, is but the biography of great men. There are no grand external struggles today: Communism is dead; Nazism was defeated. America faces a very different struggle today: the rejection of our own past.
In order to truly reclaim our authentic identity as Americans and our real, historic grounding, we must be willing to engage in a passionate, honorable defense and protection of those who came before us. Thumos, passion, honor, and righteous indignation are the elements of the human person most lost in modernity — an age without any grand themes or ideas to tether oneself to. Without thumos, one cannot feel truly tethered to a place, an idea, or a nation. We need passion to drive us forward in stalwart determination to our land and people. The American pantheon features towering giants of history who built the strongest nation the world has ever seen, as well as scholars and writers who produced such varied masterpieces as Huckleberry Finn and The Sound and the Fury. We ought to feel attached to them, and they are men and women we should strive to emulate.
The Classical era stands as an excellent example of a world that clung to its mythos, its history, and the heroes who made their countries great. The Classical World long accepted heroes as sources of virtue, as well as defenders of patriotism and honor. The Homeric legend not only expresses some of the most crucial virtues in Western Civilization but provides such a strong founding myth that groups from Britain to Rome, have tried to tie their own founding to it. This brings us to the unique problem that America poses for conservatism: we have no primeval mythology. We have no creation myth, unlike the Navajo, Han Chinese, or Bantu. We are a nation composed primarily of settlers and explorers; we are fully aware of the fact that we have not always been here.
Without such a tie to the land, we must strive to defend a cohesive and elevatory national pantheon. Our pantheon is the great men who created this nation; the stories of the Founders and their lives often seem like tall tales. Those who oppose America’s pantheon express their doubts about its origins: “Did Thomas Jefferson really invent the swivel chair? Did George Washington really cut down the cherry tree?” This seems to be the extent to which these national myths are referenced in both academia and other poles of power in our country. I argue that it does not matter whether these stories are necessarily true or not, because their power is conveyed in the ideals that they communicate: innovation, honesty, honor, and courage. These values are true and are integral to any strong and healthy nation. If one focuses on purely factual readings of these mythical stories, there are only two options; the first is a pantheon of Global Capital, with their chief gods of Bezos, Gates, and Jobs, and the slavish existence of consumerism. The second is to adopt the mythology of a place that is not America, of a culture that is not American. An authentically conservative and traditional culture must have great figures, and these figures must be the focus of admiration by the population.
We have a model for what we must do to reclaim our culture and history. During the tyrannical rule of the Soviet Union, dissidents self-published literature which spoke to the falsities of the regime, known as samizdat. Americans seeking the rebirth of the American mythos, therefore, must engage in a kind of mythical samizdat, promoting the heroic and virtuous figures of American history against the wishes of the mainstream academic and cultural establishment. Our only path towards a rebirth of our cultural patrimony and pantheon is against tremendous forces, replete with high-sounding language and flush with cash. That should not discourage, but fill you with the spirit of those dissidents who, decades ago, created samizdat and saved their nation from ruin.
Jack Little is a sophomore studying History.