It’s an odd thing, but when Robert E. Howard (yup, the Conan bloke) wrote his Solomon Kane stories, he provided an uncannily precise analysis of a certain kind of American exceptionalism.
Solomon Kane is a sixteenth century Puritan with a thirst for justice, who travels the world righting wrongs. He’s occasionally assisted by an aged Voodoo priest; he carries (the original) Solomon’s wand, introduced in a wonderfully offhand way; and he always fights evil, and he always wins out.
At one point, in ‘The Moon of Skulls’, Howard gives a very interesting description of Kane’s character and motivation. Here are the key elements:
‘He never sought to analyse his motives and he never wavered, once his mind was made up. Though he always acted on impulse, he firmly believed that all his actions were governed by cold and logical reasonings… A hunger in his soul drove him on and on, an urge to right all wrongs, protect all weaker things, and avenge all crimes against right and justice.’
The contrast between the universality of Kane’s goals and the limitations of his methods is fascinating. Implicit in his character is a lack of a need for knowledge, a sense that by just acting he’ll be right.
You can read that as an illustration of Nietzsche’s ‘noble morality’, whereby the strong perceive any action they make as being by-definition right – but it comes alive politically when you compare it with the famous ‘reality based community’ quote.
Journalist Ron Suskind, interviewing an unnamed White House insider in Autumn 2004, was told that:
‘guys like [Suskind] were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which [the insider] defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”’
Here, too, is a rejection of a judicious, empirical study of reality – ‘cold and logical reasonings’ – for something far more impulsive. It’s implicit in the rhetoric, which neatly separates thinking from doing: ‘we’re history’s actors… and you… will be left to just study’.
It’s the Solomon Kane ethos writ large, expressed at the level of empire rather than person. I’ve always felt that much US pulp fiction is America dreaming about itself – but who’d have thought that Robert E. Howard could ever have dreamt of the Neo-Cons with such force and precision?