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BEYOND THE AMERICAN ILLUSION: WHAT AMERICA REALLY MEANS
Within the "world" that is America as it actually is, for Needleman, there waits another America, another world. Within, behind what America is, there lies what American means, what Jesiah Ben Aharon (3), a disciple of Rudolf Steiner, in his book on America's Global Responsibility, calls the Western mystery stream. We are naive only when we confuse the two, when our feeling of hope is directed toward the outer America that we perceive with the senses, rather than the America we grasp with the mind and heart.
Behind all the political and economic machinations of the Founders of the country, there existed in their hearts and minds a passion to create “an American place" in the midst of the world, where the Good can be sought and lived. They believed there existed the Good – some called it God, others called it Reason – and that the Good could enter human life. If then we believe that the outer America is the real America, we are deceived by ourselves, and, as the prophets of Israel warned, we are certain to perish – first inwardly and then outwardly.
The laws of America, the political structure of American government, the respect for the Constitution, the rituals and symbols of the American republic – all of this external America bears traces, some brilliant and others faint and shadowy, but traces of a great vision of truth and wisdom that have nourished the soul of mankind throughout history. We need to find our way back to the other America, the inner America, which is to say that the modern world itself needs to find its way back to the fundamental reality of the inner world, what the ancients called "the world of the soul": a force, an intensity of feeling and knowing that defines us as human beings, that is our place in nature, on earth and with each other.
Because of the material prosperity of America, and because it seemed, and actually was, after the fact, so intimately connected with market capitalism and its successes, the illusion was embraced that man's life can be morally and materially perfected mainly through external exchanges involving, among other things, external forms of government and social order. This illusion was America's illusion, and some time ago it became the whole world's illusion.
It was this illusion that fuelled the successes of Marxist communism and ultimately brought it down, just as all illusions, sooner rather than later, come to nothing.
THE SECRET OF AMERICA: TIME AND THE FUTURE
We need to rediscover, then, the meaning of the American idea of independence as an invitation to the individual and the community to love and serve the common good under freely chosen obedience to a higher law. Here lies the secret of America – that it still has the future, that is offers mankind a future. The remnants of other nations and cultures may strike the sense of wonder in us with the greatness of their art and beauty and customs. But in these places, in Needleman's view, we are looking into the past. In America we are looking into the future, but still a real one. Spatially and temporally, America is still unfinished – as man, the unfinished animal, is still.
Lincoln, as such, is neither an unattainable saint nor a self-seeking politician. He is a symbol – for the developing soul – of what to struggle against and what to struggle for in our own process of development. Neither saint nor sinner, but a symbol of the search – the "truth quest" as Herman will later reveal – as are all the great warriors of myth, legend and scripture through the ages – the Islamic Ali urging the greater Holy War of self-overcoming. Arjuna of the Bhagavad Gita confronting the inner enemies 'on the battlefield of life". The ancient cultural symbols of the warrior and the statesman become redefined as aspects of the inner quest, representing that capacity in ourselves that can identify the disparate and warring parts of our own nature, and, under the embrace of conscious mercy and rigor, allow these parts to find their places within a greater inner unity of the self.
And now, Needleman concludes, Walt Whitman gives us words for the journey:
I hail with joy the oceanic, variegated, intense practical energy, the demands for facts, even the business materialism of the current age, our states. But woe to the age and land in which these things, movements, stopping at themselves, do not tend to ideas. As fuel to flame, and flame to heavens, so must wealth, science, materialism – even this democracy of which we make so much – unerringly feed the highest mind, soul....
We now turn to our emerging Primal Future, picking up trans-culturally from where American philosopher Needleman, and his American Soul, have left off.
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