One fact of nature and development that decisively separates America from her ancestors in Europe is that “wild unknown country” out West. At one time in our history it was only as far west as the Appalachians, then it shifted to the west bank of the Mississippi; and even when parts of the farther West were settled, whole huge swaths of its interior remained wilderness. Some are almost so to this day. When the last region of Europe to be settled was settled can only be conjectured, I think, but it was before the first was settled in North America. Columbus sought a western route to the East, not because Europeans did not know the East, but because a great martial Eastern Power blocked access to it. So Columbus found North America, and Americans have been finding more of it ever since (or least they had been, until relatively recently.)
Though I have been a resident of Southern states for over a decade now, and even tentatively consider myself an adopted son of the South, I was in fact born and raised in Denver, Colorado. My ancestors were the first Italians in that fair city.
The weather this drought-stricken spring in Georgia bears a decided resemblance to Colorado summers: Blazing sun, crystal-blue skies; dry as a bone until some deafening thunderstorm rumbles through. Somehow this uncanny resemblance has put my mind on the vastness of the West of my youth: “the wild unknown country,” to complete Dylan’s line, “where I could not go wrong.”
Implied in the purpose of this blog is an almost belligerent retention of our patrimony from Europe: most importantly our Christian patrimony. Now on the continental question, this is a somewhat complicated and even paradoxical thing: for Christianity is not, in point of fact, of European origin. But neither could it understood without Europe. And there is a further irony in the fact that those lands of primitive Christianity where the faith first emerged, were long ago conquered and subjugated by the Power against which this blog takes one of its two more explicit stands. In short, Christianity is even more European that it might have been, because the Jihad nearly trod out its ancient communities in the East.
At any rate, when Christians came to America, one of the first things they encountered was a western wilderness. Let a man drive from, say, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, or Atlanta, Georgia, to Denver (both of which drives I have completed, and I nearly persuaded the family to try the latter again this summer), and he will perceive the vastness of the American West. Eastern Colorado is a desolation of awesome immensity, hard on the heels of the fertile forests and pastures as you move west from the Mississippi; and then, just as the desolation becomes oppressive, the great bulk of the Rocky Mountains begin to rise before you, like blue-green, earthbound clouds. Beyond that is still third of the continent.
I think it is fair to say that this “wilderness imagination” is a unique feature of the American mind — though our subjection to machines, which is itself a consequence of our conquest of the wilderness, is rapidly attenuating it. The Old West was a truly libertarian society of sorts: the hand of the State appeared only as “the law,” austere and stoic, and even then it appeared with a distinctly personal aspect. Old sheriff Brown was all men knew of the State, and he verily liked a good hanging. Men owned property because they were willing and able to protect it; the documentary status was secondary. Lawlessness was answered by almost lawless lawmen, governed by honor and pride more than binding legislation. A great many men stood in relation to one another, as our modern philosophers like to say it, in a “state of nature.” Or so our Old West legends tell us; and there is solid truth in every great legend.
Europe had the great romance of the knight-errant; America had the darker, more severe romance of the western outlaw and lawman. Each dealt with an adventurer and moralist: a man who acted, yes, but also taught by his actions. Generally he taught what it means to be a man.
As for romances teaching men how to be men, we have virtually none today. And it shows in males who walk about this land. The wild unknown country is well nigh settled; and men having been liberated from their obligations find their liberty empty and base. What is the adventure of a life of licentious pleasure-seeking? Half of our popular art consists of dreary depictions of the despair induced by this barren endeavor. As the Roman Christian Salvian wrote in circumstances not so unlike ours: “Rome is luxurious, but it is filled with misery. It is dying but it laughs.”