Posts Tagged nation as family

Not your father’s father

George Lakoff explores the idea of the nation as family, the family metaphors through which we understand the world – the strict father and the nurturant parent.

That’s got me thinking about something. Some eight years ago, a great many commentators discussed the Bush administration in terms of “the adults are in charge again.” From that perspective, Bush’s team (Cheney and Powell in particular) looked like the mature, solid, stolid, and responsible adults who would be running things. They looked like the metaphorical fathers who could handle any crisis, solve any problem, resolve conflict. That they turned out to be overmatched by the real world suggests to me that something Freudian was playing itself out in our national psyche.

In the long summer of post-World War Two America, the “fathers” were much in charge. Looking at America’s leaders you saw a series of faces of serious, responsible men in suits, men in whom you could place your trust. They were responsible, reasonable, measured. Facing the truly existential dangers of the Soviet Union and communist China, they drafted a far-seeing vision of international affairs that took 40 years to bear fruit, but it worked. Faced with economic uncertainty, the crafted mature, intelligent informed technocratic solutions that (for the most part) worked effectively to raise living standards, to increase national wealth and the status of average Americans. Faced with the cultural revolutions of the 1960s, they responded at first with shock but then adapted, recognizing the need for change and, yes, for atonement for past sins.

Love’s Body, Norman O. Brown’s magisterial and at times maddening masterpiece, begins with this staggering passage:

Freud’s myth of the rebellion of the sons against the father in the primal, prehistoric horde is not a historical explanation of origins, but a supra-historical archetype; eternally recurrent; a myth; an old, old story.

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