The Fate of America


“For Jungian analyst Gellert (Modern Mysticism: Jung, Zen and the Still Good Hand of God), America is at a fateful crossroads: will it allow the vision of its Founding Fathers 'to be diffused through the cults of novelty, freedom, happiness or prosperity,' or will it reconnect to its spiritual roots 'moral integrity and integrity of good, balanced living'? Gellert contrasts the overlapping and competing visions of Adams and Jefferson by portraying Jefferson's philosophy of freedom as the absence of restrictions by the church and state and Adams's as a reflection of 'interior integrity' based on one's character and ethics. Using this analysis as a backdrop, Gellert identifies and examines a host of contemporary U.S. problems emanating from the individualistic Jeffersonian philosophy, including an 'addiction to innocence' (things are the way they appear) and an 'addiction to height' (a need to express heroic visions through materialistic reaches toward the heavens e.g., skyscrapers and space programs). In separate chapters, he also discusses the embrace of what he terms 'cults,' which results in simplistic beliefs in celebrity, religious fundamentalism along with religious mediocrity, and the valuing of individual passion ('getting high'). Lost in all this focus on the self is character, ethics, and integrity the 'vision thing.' A broad-ranging, cogently argued, and provocative critique that has taken on a whole new dimension since September 11.”

Library Journal

“I found Michael Gellert's book a great comfort in the days following September 11. His view of the need to understand the impact of the heroic ideal on American history and culture could not be more timely. His ability to weave the social, the political, and the historical with the psychological, universal patterns of human behavior is truly impressive.”

Steven J. Frank, Ph.D., Jungian Analyst and
Director, Kieffer E. Frantz Clinic, C. G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles

"This is a book of profound and timely importance Michael Gellert delineates the dilemma facing contemporary America at the turn of the new millennium with the insight of a scholar and the heart of a sage. His philosophic understanding of American character as played out in our national history is both unique and deeply engaging. In drawing out the fantasies, cults and motifs that have shaped our heroic sense of mission, our belief in unlimited possibilities and our quest for salvation in material wealth, he shows how we have drifted from the vision laid down by our founding fathers. Particularly insightful is, in his first chapter, his treatment of the dichotomy between (in the spiritual and psychological sense) authority and youth. He relates these two archetypes of the collective unconscious as bipolar and yet interdependent. The spirit of youth moves toward the spirit of authority for guidance and completion and the spirit of authority moves toward the spirit of youth for rejuvenation and rebirth. Youth without authority stays forever young and becomes stagnant, authority without youth dries up and dies.

"The early settlers embodied the spirit of authority (civilization, order and tradition), but the fierce wilderness of the continent encouraged the emergence of the primitive spirit of youth. The raw energies of this spirit were needed to transform the land and build the new nation. The consequence of this for the American character Mr. Gellert sees as a disposition toward barbarism, juxtaposed by a heritage of culture and spirituality-a schism between the spirits. What was lacking over much of our history and Puritanism, internationalism and isolationism, freethinking and religiosity, have characterized the American identity. First one pole of a pair is predominant, then the other. When one becomes extreme or exhausted it flips into the other, rather than evolve to a higher level.

"Other chapters deal with the cult of motion and speed, the cult of celebrity, and the quest for 'height' (transcendence through high achievements). Mr. Gellert's astute analysis of fanaticism and fundamentalism predates the events of 9/11, yet establishes a firm foundation for understanding the many forms 'true belief' embodies. He shows how modern Christian evangelicals and followers of the New Age movement exemplify the dichotomy between authority and youth.

"The serious reader of history and philosophy will find thought-provoking information and ideas in this eloquently written book by Michael Gellert."

Selwyn Mills, author of Prisoner of Romance

"The Fate of America tackles a very difficult topic. It tries to describe and define the national character of the United States. This is in a certain way an impossible task and yet a very important one. The national character of every nation always in some way escapes us, yet we have to try to catch it. Michael Gellert very well succeeds to show the different--the negative and the positive--sides of a particular national characteristic of America. I very much appreciated his concern with American innocence. This side of the American national character is hardly ever described or understood outside America. Although America is today the most important nation in the world, it is all the same hardly ever understood. I hope the book will be read by many politicians and people in general, both in America and abroad."

- Dr. Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig, Author, Former President of the C.G. Jung Institute of Zurich,
Former President of the International Association of Analytical Psychology

"The Fate of America is an excellent work. I love the way it concludes. It's a fine piece of scholarship, well-written and easily understood. It should have, I hope, a very large audience."

- J. Marvin Spiegelman, Ph.D., author, Jungian analyst

"A publication which combines so essential a historical review with so incisive an analysis of American culture offers us all a timely moral challenge. Michael Gellert, whose personal copy of The Fate of America just happened to arrive, after years of thoughtful research, on September 11, 2001, provides a provocative guide to the evolution of America's heroic ideal and the dire necessity for its transformation. Gellert preserves the upside of the original vision of America's heroic ideal, but captures the worst of our dissociation from it. Gellert's study is accordingly a sober guide to the extremely troubling collective phenomena of our culture and the myths which envelop them. Yet it is a challenge to deep individual reflection by all of us, and hopefully a prelude to constructive political action."

- Bradley A. TePaske, Ph.D., Jungian analyst
(abridged from a review in Psychological Perspectives)

"Scholars have long debated over the concept of 'national character.' Gellert (C.G. Jung Institute) offers a fascinating meditation on the American national character, which he describes as the pursuit of a heroic ideal and an aspiration for greatness. He discusses the tension between youth and authority, and the contemporary tendency to worship youth. However, youth has its dark side, such as folly, disastrous innocence, and lack of awareness. At its worst, innocence imagines that it can do no wrong, and is blind to its faults and shortcomings because it cannot even recognize them. Gellert argues that the American ideal has stagnated because the necessary balance between youth and authority has been lost. At times the book becomes a jeremiad against the excesses of individualism and hedonism. This volume is reminiscent of Winthrop Jordan's The White Man's Burden in its discussion of Freudian processes such as repression and projection. Gellert provides an impressive work of Jungian analysis, but those who do not share the Jungian paradigm may find it speculative. Arguments based on interpretation of the psyche are difficult to prove. Nevertheless, the author offers a captivating perspective, worthy of serious attention."

- Choice, April 2002

"This is a very fine book, written with erudition, conviction and a point of view that is always clear, without being dogmatic. It is not only an essential read for any American with a curiosity about our 'national character', but also for citizens of the rest of the world who want an in-depth, accurate portrait of the American psyche.

"As I first began to read this volume (and it takes time and work) I had misgivings that it might turn out to be an exercise in Jungian reductive thinking with its central thesis being 'America: A Case Study of Puer/Senex Psychology'. But Dr Gellert is far too flexible a thinker, far too gifted a writer, far too keen an observer, far too good a historian and far too insightful an analytical psychologist to fall into a simplistic, reductive trap in the Jungian mode. Puer/senex psychology with its interplay between youth and authority runs throughout the study, but always in the context of very specific historic and contemporary examples so that analytical psychology never outweighs or gobbles up American political and cultural history. Gellert is as equally comfortable with Adams and Jefferson or Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan as he is with Jung and Hillman.

"An idea that I have been developing in collaboration with others is the careful extension of Jung's theory of complexes to the cultural level of the psyche. Of course, the seeds of this are in Jung himself. As Gellert quotes Jung: 'A collective problem, if not recognized as such, always appears as a personal problem, and in individual cases may give the impression that something is out of order in the realm of the personal psyche. The personal sphere is indeed disturbed, but such disturbances need not be primary; they may well be secondary, the consequence of an insupportable change in the social atmosphere. The cause of disturbance is therefore, not to be sought in the personal surroundings, but rather in the collective situation. Psychotherapy has hitherto taken this matter far too little into account.' (Gellert, p. 197; Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1963, pp. 233-4)

"Gellert makes reference to specific national complexes in his discussions of race (pp. 259-60, 241-7), and in his description of the 'American messianic complex'(pp. 226-8). From my perspective, however, Gellert's study as a whole can be thought of as a phenomenological description of 'the American cultural complex'.

"Jungian theory posits that there is an archetypal core to every complex, be it personal or cultural. One way to read Gellert's work is that he places the hero archetype at the centre of the predominant American cultural complex. In Gellert's work, the history of America and the development of its national character can be read as the changing and deteriorating relationship to the hero archetype. Out of the shifting patterns of relationship to the hero archetype, from Jefferson to Davy Crockett to Wyatt Earp to John F. Kennedy to Kurt Cobain, he has developed a portrait of the American 'national character' or perhaps even more accurately, a portrait of the American cultural complex. Gellert maps a psychopathology of the collective psyche which is characterized by multiple symptoms, predominant among which are: addiction to height and achievement; addiction to speed and motion; addiction to innocence; addiction to youth.

"What makes Gellert's book come alive against the schematic background I have sketched is the richness of detail, the carefully chosen examples that stretch from the Founding Fathers and frontiersmen to contemporary film, sports, politics and music. He is a terrific student of our history and our contemporary culture with an uncannily accurate eye for how the concrete and the symbolic are embedded in one another. For example, Gellert grounds his discussion of the American fascination with a Dionysian type of young, fallen hero in this discussion of the rock ‘n’roll cult hero, Jim Morrison: 'Characterized as a satyr and notorious for his alcoholism, Morrison epitomized the Dionysian life. As illustrated in Oliver Stone's film, 'The Doors', he had a consuming obsession with Thanatos, seeking it out as an escape from ordinariness and toying with it in repeated acts of defiance and inflation . . . It is as if the youth culture itself has glorified the principle of Dionysian death through Jim Morrison, as it has made not only a hero out of him, nor just a death-hero, but a Dionysian death-hero. The marriage between the cult of passion and the cult of celebrity is steeped in the innocent belief that a life and death ruled by passion is noble because it is instinctual and pure.' (pp. 218-19)

"In this and countless other examples, Gellert distinguishes himself as a fine clinical observer of the 'American cultural complex'.

"Particularly compelling to me is Gellert's analysis of racism. His multi-layered chapter, 'The Metaphor of America's Darkness', is a deceptively agile blend of archetypal psychology, the early history of racism in America, and a discussion of contemporary manifestations of this toxic cultural complex. Quoting Jung's remarkable observation that every (American) Negro has a white complex and every (white) American a Negro complex, Gellert goes on to say: 'The white complex is, figuratively speaking, the white man inside the black man's psyche, as the black complex is the black man inside the white man's psyche. The white complex operates in the African-American psyche as a judgmental and alienating authority principle, and compels the African-American to displace onto the white man his inner authority and the measuring rod of his own goodness. The black complex operates in the white American psyche as a paganizing primal-youth principle, compelling the white American to displace onto the black man his animal nature, dark fears, and evil impulses.' (pp. 259-60)

"One senses beneath the surface of Gellert's easy writing style how profoundly upset and distressed he is by our American national character. Ultimately his book can be read as a passionate plea for a transformation in depth of who we are as a people - a transformation that no one person can nor will achieve. For Gellert, The Fate of America hinges on our capacity as a people for 'spiritual revitalization' and the 'renewing our vision'. To accomplish this we may have to do what Jung said about our personal complexes a long time ago - we may have to drink our cultural complex to its dregs."

- Thomas Singer, Society of Jungian Analysts of Northern California, San Francisco,
from Journal of Analytical Psychology (April 2003, Vol. 48, No. 2.)

"This is an excellent book and timely after the events of September 11th. Although not stating so directly, it reinforces the view that the only solution to the Middle East quagmire, at least as far as North America is concerned, is to become self-sufficient in energy. Safeguarding our oil supplies in the Middle East by forcing our political will upon the region will only breed resentment and violence. Even as we speak the forces that oppose us are planning the next September 11th. It is only a matter of time. We need to form a consortium of friendly nations to become energy self-sufficient internally. The only obstacle is the will to do it."

- David Deneau, Phoenix, AZ