Ezra Pound and the Question of American Tradition

 

ezrapound1940The United States, a nation created by a document and not a people, has always had a challenge forming a tradition. Both the French and American revolutions emerge from the same “Enlightened” milieu.[i] The US has not had the long histories of Europe, and circumstances as a country founded by revolutionaries complicates the matters. Subsequent waves of European immigration further muddied the creation of a true American nation. This problem persisted throughout the nineteenth century, and came to head at the turn of the twentieth century. America’s place in the context of Western tradition is firmly rooted in its relationship to Europe.

The journey of Lost Generation writers and artists from America to Europe was a practical matter on one level. Paris, especially, had a highly favorable exchange rate compared to the dollar in the 1920s. At the same time, many Americans wanted to return to the old world, the source of Western art and culture. Even before the Modernist movements of the twentieth century, other generations of American artists and intellectuals “had their center of gravity in Europe—Irving, Hawthorne, Emerson, Whistler, Frank Harris, Henry James…Ezra Pound.”[ii] It is the last author on the list who attempted to work out America’s relation within a broader European tradition and finding its own in the history of the American Republic. American poet and literary critic Ezra Pound found tradition within the history of the United States. Pound’s America of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was more of a nation, having a distinct national identity. It is easy to see why he could find tradition within the US then. Pound placed the onus of blame on American and by extension Western decline on usury and the excesses of lassiez-faire capitalism.

The onus of Pound’s study on American decline was on the matter of economic organization, specifically monetary and lending reforms. He was not a rootless cosmopolitan during his near lifetime of expatriation. He was profoundly American, and expressed a deep concern for the Constitution.[iii] Pound’s Cantos regularly feature John Adams and Thomas Jefferson as characters, among many other real and mythic persons. Pound’s concern for questions deeper than poetry (this is by no means to belittle his scholarship and contributions to that art) began when his close friend and artist Henri Gaudier-Brzeska died in the First World War.[iv] Pound reflected on the war and its consquences in the landmark poem “Hugh Selwyn Mauberly:”

 

[T]HESE fought, in any case,

and some believing, pro domo, in any case..
Some quick to arm,
some for adventure,
some from fear of weakness,
some from fear of censure,
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
learning later. . .

some in fear, learning love of slaughter;
Died some pro patria, non dulce non et decor”. .

walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men’s lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;

usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.

[v]

Source

 

The First World War was a cataclysmic shock to Europe, and marked a paradigm shift. Wars were no longer aristocratic, limited affairs or in a far-flung colonial locale; industrial war meant that machine violently entered the human sphere and all society had to become technocratic in order to cope with this new method of warfare. Pound blamed the industrialists and bankers for the war, therefore serious changes of the economic order were required.

Pound looked to Mussolini’s fascism in order to find answers to his questions. By 1935, he asserted, “[t]he Heritage of Jefferson, Quincy Adams, old John Adams, Jackson, Van Buren, is HERE, NOW in the Italian peninsula…not in Massachusetts or Delaware.”[vi] For the poet, the end of traditional America occurred with the end of the Civil War and the victory of the Union.[vii] In many ways, the American Civil War was a dialectic between traditional aristocratic power and emerging financial-industrial power.[viii] America transitioned away from the older, Continental forms of organization with the triumph of the North’s money power. The industrial society of the North had within it the roots of the managerialism pioneered in the interwar period. Pound addresses this in Jefferson and/or Mussolini: fascism is a revolt against intellectualism run amok, or “an anti-snob movement.”[ix]

At the time of Pound’s writing in the 1930s, he saw American Constitutional tradition superseded into a third ideological bloc between fascism and Bolshevism. Based on Pound’s writings, the key question of a nation’s solvency was its monetary system; fascism was the best vehicle in his view to create a sound monetary system. However, Jefferson and/or Mussolini has a postscript questioning whether Mussolini “has regenerated Italy, merely for the sake of reinfecting her with the black death of the capitalist monetary system?”[x] (Indeed, Mussolini was initially opposed to the Third Reich, signing mutual defense pacts with Britain, leader of the capitalist world order) According to Pound’s theses, America could not return to her earlier tradition based on its success in the Second World War. The United States shifted from a the small agrarian America as envisioned by Jefferson, or the economically self-sufficient American system later proposed by Henry Clay. Fundamentally, the United States has always had difficulty forming Tradition because of its basis on a document as well as the repercussions of Puritan and Calvinist theology that emphasize material success as a sign of God’s favor. It is still unclear as of this writing if America can regain its Constitutional traditions or even build one as the nation-states of Europe have.

Endnotes:

[i] Jay Dyer, “The Revolutionary Faith and the Illuminati Crown,” https://jaysanalysis.com/2013/03/20/the-revolutionary-faith-the-illuminati-and-the-crown/

[ii] Francis Parker Yockey, Imperium, (Wentzville, Montana: Invictus Books, 1948, repr. 2011) 361.

[iii] James Laughlin, Pound as Wuz: Essays and Lectures on Ezra Pound (Saint Paul: Greywolf Press, 1987) 20.

[iv] Ibid., 152.

[v] Source: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Hugh_Selwyn_Mauberley

[vi] Ezra Pound, Jefferson and/or Mussolini: L’Idea Statate, Fascism as I Have Seen It (New York: Liveright Publishing Corp, 1935) 12.

[vii] Ibid., 95.

[viii] Yockey, 422.

[ix] Pound, Jefferson and/or Mussolini, 59.

[x] Ibid., 128.

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