Western Cultural Identity and the American Market

Written by Raja El Fani

The world is in a mad state of flux. From Brexit to the unexpected victory of Donald Trump, surprising choices are being made in attempts to redefine and demarcate borders of identity and reestablish national culture country after country. The emergence of Trump perfectly illustrates the global hunger for a collective ideal, one that does not rely on the insubstantial, politically-correct, formal tolerance of multiculturalism, but rather one that goes back to an embrace a single, deep-rooted and collective ideal that transcends any compliance – the ideal of culture that Metamodern art’s anachronism can teach us, one that goes back to the basics.

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In that sense, Trump’s imminent administration forces us to rethink globalization. The idea of a boundaryless America has weakened the U.S. economy and made European countries follow a negative standard, forgoing their unitary and essential perspective. Europe doesn’t need to imitate American culture to stand as allied countries. And aside from collaborating economically, it should end that imitation and complicity, leaving America with little to gain by continuing to mass-produce Europe’s heritage. (Jeff Koons’s industrial reproductions of classical Greek-Roman statues are the perfect example of the simplistic culture that obsolete standard produces).

We must separate the necessity to share and to collaborate from what makes us distinct. The solution is not in a “diversity” that is a further fragmentation of our identity. What makes Americans or Europeans recognize themselves as Americans and Europeans, independently of their status, their color or their religion, is an abstract and unique identity that they, as different societies, have shaped.

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The market is for America what knowledge is for Europe. They are two very distinct cultures forced to mingle since the American landings in France during World War II. At that moment, as the winner of the war, America obtained from the European countries a series of decisions that lead to the formalization of Europe’s defeat; the Paris Treaty of Peace. This treaty represented a reset to zero of many centuries of European supremacy. Rome became, as Rossellini’s cult movie says, “Città Aperta”, a city wide-open to State interference, but also a city more able than Paris (which has never acknowledged the defeat) to rebuild from scratch. Indeed ten years later, Italy, among the European countries officially defeated, became the place where the Rome Treaty was signed to found European Economic Community (EEC). It is no coincidence Europe was formally born in Rome where the previous defeat was more significant culturally.

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Twenty years after the war, the Economic Miracle gave rise to a new wave of innovation in Italy and, throughout Europe, an elite of intellectuals was born, but this elite was never replaced and renewed. Instead, Europe has now grown a bureaucratic elite with which the actual European people cannot identify. It is logical that with such a gap, nationalist parties like the Front National of the French Marine Le Pen gain a strong popular appeal rooted in national identity, much like the popular appeal of Donald Trump in America. But knowledge, not blood and soil, remains the real cornerstone of European culture, a culture based on art and science, embodied in the figure of the intellectual, made iconic with Rodin’s Thinker. Neither Le Pen in France nor Salvini in Italy is so far able to forge such a figure. Trump, in contrast, does embody a particular American ideal: The self-made man. To match him, Europe would need to generate a great self-made mind – actually, many self-made minds that, with independent thinking, might ultimately come to the forefront of popular movements. In Italy, Grillo’s Five Stars Movement has given the bipolar political landscape new independent figures like Virginia Raggi, a young lawyer just elected Mayor of Rome. Accused of “inexperience” by the establishment, this freshness is precisely where the promise of autonomy and variety of ideas lies. No traditional party can currently offer such guarantees. The quality, as democracy teaches, must be measured by results.

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In the American expansionism beginning near the end of the 19th century, there was always an awareness that a culture based on the market alone is too superficial. Trump represents the first attempt, however limited, to upgrade the original American culture. By claiming that the American dream is dead and that he will rebuild it, Trump is not saying he will operate a revival of old outdated values. Rather, he is saying that what holds a chance of truly reforming America is an active, contemporary interpretation of the American identity, on an exegetical level.

As Trump’s cabinet is taking shape, Europeans might remind Americans that culture has no representative in the American government. The anti-Trump protest, which gathered art world figures in Soho on November 28, clearly shows that American cultural policy is needed. What these manifestations, principally in New York, ultimately demonstrate is that the demand for culture needs to go through love, a vital passion incompatible with authority and thus left to creativity. Hearts are spreading in bulk as a global symbol of love in multiple, superficially-unrelated protests: From NY one may turn to Rome, where ten days ago, before referendum vote, Grillo led Five Stars’ march against Italian PM Renzi and his minister Maria Elena Boschi’s reform. Grillo waved all along Rome a big red inflatable heart until he gave it to Virginia, the Mayor of Rome, on the stage near Mouth of Truth site, Roman Holidays’ famous scene set. On the other hand, a heart for mobilizing the No camp, although the No won, is an incorrect communication strategy. The heart symbol, as the standard icon now used by all social networks, is positive, feminine, and open, and can only be perceived as an absolute YES, and that yes is rooted in ancient truth.

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The discovery of a 3,800-year old Thinker in Israel teaches us that an advanced European nationalism can not be based on Greek history alone, but should extend its roots and return toward the East, toward Asia, to the very beginning of civilization. With the creation of Israel, Europe has endeavored and at least managed to incorporate a small part of the Middle East, facilitated by the shared roots of Judaism and Christianity. Now, with Iraq-Syria’s striking cultural persistence despite war and destruction (and which includes a strong, living, Palestinian identity), it is urgent that Europe resumes and completes its process of cultural incorporation of the whole Middle East (Iran included).

As America is the New World where Western identity can evolve, so the Middle East is the Big Bang of Western identity and can’t stand outside a renewed awareness of Europe. As current Post-Modern art’s anachronism teaches, Europe faces the difficult undertaking of reuniting its past with its present. Europe’s complex culture has to be conceived as a time machine, A task that Trump, if culturally decoded, has just placed back in our hands.

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