Thursday, January 02, 2014

American Literature: Geography Used Instead of Heroes

The Acton Institute has a good blog post on how American Literature uses different regions instead of heroes to convey civic virtues.  The blog points out how this is more Roman Republican than later European literature which emphasized martial and saintly elite virtues symbolized in specific hero characters.

Key takeaways are
Prior to the modern age most literary heroes exemplified the martial virtues of the warrior (courage, honor, duty) or the theological virtues of the saints (kindness, generosity, faithfulness). They were the virtues of the elite, whether militarily, politically, or spiritually. But in the post-Civil War era, America needed to reconnect with the virtues of the citizen.
The ideal virtues of the Via Americana—qualities needed to conquer and civilize regional peoples under one American republic—are remarkably similar. But whereas in Rome these virtues were embodied in mytho-theological constructs (e.g., Veritas, the goddess of truth), in America we associate them with the geographic regions (e.g., the frugality of the New Englanders). 
Americans can associate themselves with virtues of regions in which they do not live because they share a common connection of Americanness.
The blog posts ends with a powerful question:
[D]o we need strong associative ties and allegiances to larger communal groupings (either regional or federal) in order to live virtuously in our own local communities? Can Americans be good localists without first identifying with the disseminated virtues of Americana?

No comments: