Primitive America: The Ideology of Capitalist Democracy by Paul Smith

By Paul Smith

One of the main confounding facets of yank society—the person who probably most often perplexes observers either household and foreign—is the colossal contradiction among what anthropologists may perhaps time period the “hot” and “cold” components within the tradition. the new encompasses the dynamic and revolutionary points of a society devoted to progress and productiveness, marked by means of mobility, innovation, and optimism. against this, the chilly embodies inflexible social types and archaic ideals, fundamentalisms of every kind, racism and xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, cultural atavism, and ignorance—in brief, the primitive.


For cultural critic Paul Smith, the stress among revolutionary and primitive is a constitutive situation of yank heritage and tradition. In Primitive America, Smith contemplates this first contradiction because it has performed out within the years considering the fact that September 11. certainly, he writes, a lot of what has occurred since—events that experience appeared to many to be novel and egregious—can be defined through this foundational dialectic.


More greatly nonetheless, Primitive America attests that this underlying rigidity is pushed via America’s unquestioned devotion to the basic propositions and techniques of capitalism. This devotion, Smith argues, has turn into America’s integral attribute, and he starts off this booklet via elaborating at the concept of the primitive in America—its particular heritage of capital accumulation, commodity fetishism, and cultural narcissism. Smith is going directly to music the indications of the primitive that experience arisen within the aftermath of September 11 and the graduation of the “Long struggle” opposed to “violent extremists”: the character of yankee imperialism, the prestige of the U.S. structure, the militarization of America’s economic climate and tradition, and the Bush administration’s forget for human rights.


An pressing and demanding engagement with present American regulations and practices, Primitive America is, whilst, an incisive critique of the ideology that fuels the ethos of America’s capitalist culture.


Paul Smith is professor of cultural experiences at George Mason collage and the writer of various books, together with Clint Eastwood: A Cultural Production (Minnesota, 1993).

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Extra resources for Primitive America: The Ideology of Capitalist Democracy

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The strength and dignity [and] good heartedness of the people” and the fact that America had “brought real respect to the rule of law” (Washington Post, July 12, 2002). These features, and I’m sure many others, are what go to constitute the incredibly complex warp and woof of “our” imaginaries of the United States. The reality of each and any of them, and necessarily of the totality, is evidently more problematic. The words of another departing visitor, the British journalist Matthew Engel, are telling: “The religiosity, the prohibitionist instincts, the strange sense of social order you get in a country that has successfully outlawed jaywalking, the gluttony, the workaholism, the bureaucratic inbexibility, the paranoia and the national weakness for ill-informed solipsism have all seemed very foreign” (The Guardian, June 3, 2003).

Fabian’s particular contribution to this process suggests that to conceive of the anthropological other in an isochronic, or what he calls coeval, fashion would be to redirect anthropology altogether—and notably away from its connivance with imperialist processes. The task that such a recommendation entails is that of turning what Fabian has called a concept into what he calls an object. One way that might be done would be to demonstrate that the concrete features and phenomena that have constituted the “primitive” are in fact empirically evident in “nonprimitive” cultures, such that the issue of allochronicity is bypassed.

S. regime is content to steer. But Baudrillard, like de Tocqueville, remains essentially enthralled by the “overall dynamism” in that process, despite its evident downside; it is, he says, “so exciting” (89). And he identices the drive to equality rather than freedom as the source of the peculiar energy of America. In a sense, he might well be right: certainly it is this “dynamism” that “we” love, even as “we” might resist and resent the master’s gaze upon which it battens. And yet, each celebration of the “conditions of equality” adds to the long tradition of ignoring and eliding the material conditions of inequality that in fact undergird all of America’s dynamism.

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