Virgil in contemporary America. by Gerardo Muñoz

The well-established American Liberal historian of ideas, Mark Lilla, writes in his recent essay “The Once and the Now” an outlandish thesis: “the ideologies of modern fascism are all heirs to the Aeneid.” Any reasonable reaction should start not by disputing the content of such superficial assertion, but rather by raising the central question: what has taken place in America so that this level of intellectual putrefaction and conscious oblivion towards the past could take place, thus becoming permissible and reasonable? From where does the intellectual confidence emerge so that such a lethal rhetorical force can be deployed? At a high paced rate, the United States has become a beacon for an ongoing fascination over “fascism and anti-fascism” to the point of adapting an absolute form of parody in the “serious” forms of culture, academic production, and current event discussions.

Perhaps it is not that difficult to find an answer; and, one can say that once a culture repeatedly defines itself by the parameters of its parodic enactment is precisely a culture that has effectively ceased to exist. Carl Schmitt was up to something when he writes in Glossarium (an entry from 1953) that fascism after the war amounted to the ultimate victory of Stalinism over every other geopolitical actor in the Western world. The Cold War was also a battle for mimetic containment and pacification: the uttermost consummation to the highest case of metonymic endurance. The diffused “cultural war” in America in every symbolic dimensions of life (the media, the university, the political jargon, the legal profession, the community interaction, etc) shows that the victory has now reached definitive and unprecedented heights. It is true that fascism has always triggered a sort of libidinal drive – something that Susan Sontag knew well – in the societal attachment to symbolic production. In this sense there is little new here. But the novelty shows itself if one understands that the rhetoric of fascism has now become autonomous and sine qua non to cultural solvency into nihilism.

If Lilla’s remark caught my attention it is because it fully captures this transformation at the highest levels of the American elite. This transformation is nothing but the essence of Americanism as a fictive rhetorical parody of everything belonging to “Western culture”. This is why, regardless of ideological commitments (or precisely because of them), Americanism is in the business of an active forgetting of the West; while, at the same time, presuming credentials to be its most courageous defender. But it should be clear that Americanism’s defense of the West ultimately means the compulsive expansion of public opinion through a trivialization of the alienability of the past in its own ever-changing image.

In 1935, a short book appeared in Europe penned by Catholic intellectual Theodor Haecker that was entitled Virgil, Father of the West. This essay reminded its readers that culture in Virgil’s Aeneid and Georgics is best understood as the possibility of dwelling in the land through the cultivation of the Eros itself. In fact, Haecker will go on to write that the paradigm of Virgil’s Georgica should remain well into the end of the epoch as a solid commitment to the iustissima tellus against the “mysticism of the machine and the glorification of technology”. Almost a century after, Haecker’s hope in the possibility of cultivating homecoming has literally vanished. To any attentive observer it is clear that American intellectual elites have abdicated their commitment to iustissima tellus, while the marching orders of Americanism, driven by the artificial hells of the Metaverse and planetary conflagration, have already animated the flock through the gate leaving behind nothing but resilient and uninterrupted destruction.