The Mindless Typewriter

If Dwight Macdonald’s “America!—Americal” [DISSENT, Fall 1958] were read by the European audience for whom it was intended, would it satisfy their curiosity about this strange land? What European needs to be told that there is a “cult of youth” in America? What European is not aware that Tuscany has an “orderly social structure” in which each person is “differentiated by status and function,” and that in the United States respect for others depends upon a force majeure? What European does not know that American automobiles are abominations, symbols of a vulgarity that pervades our entire life? From Alexis de Tocqueville to Simone de Beauvoir this has been the raw material out of which the European has woven his image of America. Certainly, to American ears this is so familiar a refrain that it has ceased to have even shock value.

The repetition of the known and trite need not be a fatal journalistic defect if it is presented in a way that allows for new perceptions, or if it forms the background for an interpretative statement. But Macdonald’s essay does not even have this saving grace. He tells us, for example, that “progressive education and Freudian theories” have caused parents “to lose confidence in their right to rule.” Assuming this last statement to be true—and it has a certain glitter about it which automatically leads to doubts—the stated causes are no more than cultural cliches. One can pick up practically any issue of Life and find the devil masquerading as John Dewey or Sigmund Freud.