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History Has Begun

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Popular consensus says that the US rose over two centuries to Cold War victory and world domination, and is now in slow decline. But is this right? History’s great civilisations have always lasted much longer, and for all its colossal power, the US was overshadowed by Europe until recently. What if this isn’t the end?

Bruno Maçães offers a compelling vision of America’s future, both fascinating and unnerving. From the early American Republic, Maçães takes us to the turbulent present, when, he argues, America is finally forging its own path. We can see the birth pangs of this new civilisation in today’s debates on guns, religion, foreign policy and the significance of Trump. What will its values be, and what will this new America look like?

208 pages, Hardcover

Published March 1, 2020

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Bruno Maçães

7 books110 followers

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Profile Image for Murtaza .
664 reviews3,401 followers
October 18, 2020
America began as a European project. Europe played the role of civilizational tutor in the development of America, just as Greeks helped shape the early Romans. But over the course of centuries has begun to transform into something entirely new and perhaps even at odds with Europe. This book offers the thesis that Americans are a people fundamentally shaped by the unique forms of fictional media storytelling that they have created. They are a people "at war with reality" and in love with grand stories about the world and their own place in it. When reality intrudes, it is considered unwelcome and must be banished again as soon as possible. We have seen this most recently with the coronavirus pandemic, on which this book includes a chapter.

Daniel Boorstin once warned us that "we risk being the first people in history to have been able to make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive, so realistic that they can live in them. We are the most illusioned people on Earth. Yet we dare not become disillusioned, because our illusions are the very house in which we live; they are our news, our heroes, our adventure, our forms of art, our very experience." So it is with how Americans pursue foreign policy, elect their leaders and respond to very real threats and disasters. They are wedded into familiar film-style narratives of human evil and redemption. Europeans see reality as a documentary; an essentially tragic one based on their history. Americans meanwhile see it as an action television series in which new episodes are constantly being generated. Their response to the apparent shallowness of life in liberal society is to inject it with increasing dosages of unreality. Everything becomes somehow overloaded with meaning and ironically meaningless at the same time. (consider Donald Trump for instance)

In their behavior, Macaes argues, Americans often come to act roles that they feel are expected of them by the script that their powerful narratives have generated. Everything has a sense of unreality to it. The last frontier of reality of course is death, one of the few undeniable facts, and it is that last frontier that they are now working to banish as much as possible, at least from conscious awareness. Technology is the most powerful tool in the war against biological and material reality and is being enlisted to keep those brute forces at bay so that the narratives and stories we tell ourselves can continue to live. To begin to see the unreality of such things is the first step in spiritual liberation from them.

In his own warped way Donald Trump had a natural understanding of the way Americans think and used this knowledge to become their president. Reality is boring and needs embellishment; and embellish he does every day. If some of the embellishment is negative for those who dislike him (the majority I think), it is still undeniably captivating and feeds the desire for a narrative. That narrative may now end with his titanic defeat, but he as surely as anyone else understands that such a defeat must be a grand finale to give the crowd what it wants. This book is in a way centered around Trump and his presidency as the final undeniable expression of the penetration of reality by fantasy. It strikes a good balance between being head-in-the-clouds and focused on the facts of the present moment.
Profile Image for Stephen.
10 reviews4 followers
June 22, 2020
"Americans see the world as an action movie, Europeans as a documentary."

A unique perspective on what it means to live in America in the twenty-first century. Macaes sees modern America as a civilization undergoing radical transformation and a "decolonization" process in an attempt to cut the umbilical cord of its European roots and become something completely different in both philosophy and lifestyle. He sees America as the first post-modern culture, preferring to act in accordance with story-lines of its own invention rather than reality itself. He recognizes Donald Trump as the first post-modern president, who sees himself and those around him more as characters in a TV drama than as actors in the real world.

My favorite part of the book (personal bias) comes in chapter 4, when Macaes describes the shift of Modern America to Post-Modern America by comparing two great american novels, "The Great Gatsby" and "Infinite Jest":

"In the 1925 novel The Great Gatsby - the culmination of the European way of life in America - the story is that of the lonely individual struggling against the forces of convention as he pursues his personal vision of happiness. That vision was bound to be defeated because no individual can stand up to the social whole and because only failure can certify that his or her vision was purely personal and subjective, divorced from the world of realities the moment it was first conceived...I could never become very interested in Gatsby because - for all its lyricism and formal perfection - it read like a European novel, imported from Europe a few decades after the original product became common there."

"In Infinite Jest, the sprawling 1996 novel by David Foster Wallace, the real story is the story itself. The struggle is that of the story to develop and cohere into a finished book. The author sets out the conflict in terms of the very largess of the story's range, swept across endless characters and topics, whose inclusion can only be justified or motivated by the story as a whole. There is a terrorist group and a North American superstate, calendar years sponsored by corporations, and a movie so funny it can kill you. These elements are rather miraculously brought together in an overarching plot. By the end of the book we know the story, the story of the book we have just read."

"The classical American hero rises up against convention and tradition in the search for absolute freedom. The modern American hero accepts all the experiences of human life, but transforms them into stories. The individual search is now a search for meaning."

The last chapters of the book lay out what the author thinks these shifts mean for America on the global stage, in the presence of a rising China and in light of America's failures at nation-state building abroad.

Really fun and interesting book, and maybe important.
Profile Image for Scriptor Ignotus.
495 reviews174 followers
February 19, 2021
Conventional wisdom declares that the United States is a superpower in decline. After ascending to global preeminence over its first two centuries and briefly leading a unipolar world following the fall of communism, the nation that has traditionally regarded itself as the world’s foremost vanguard and expositor of western ideals has watched its relative economic and military superiority diminish as emerging power blocs have carved out space on the international stage. Perhaps more alarmingly, the enlightenment values that comprise the ideological bedrock of the American order—namely liberalism, democracy, and capitalism—seem to be embattled not only abroad, but increasingly within the American domestic sphere as well. An aging, inept, and plutocratic political establishment seeks to expand the imperial frontiers under the aegis of the old Wilsonian liberal internationalism even while it attempts to ward off the gathering storm of a thoroughly-disenchanted populism on the home front. If America can no longer convince itself of its ideological vision, how can it hope to convince the rest of the world?

But what if, Bruno Maçães suggests, we are not witnessing the death rattle of American civilization—its perpetually-ballyhooed Roman implosion—but the birth pangs of its most original, vibrant, and authentic manifestation? What if America is not wilting on the vine, but merely shedding its faux-European cocoon and embracing, after two and a half centuries of adolescent tutelage, a more vital, self-generated, and organic way of being? What if such homegrown visionaries as Whitman and Emerson saw further than prosaic Eurocentrics like Tocqueville when they perceived America not as the terminus of an old and alien civilization, but rather as the seedbed in which a new organism was germinating that would inevitably break through its European veneer?

For Tocqueville, America represented the end stage of European liberalism. Because its political order had been crafted for a new people in a virgin environment, free from Europe’s centuries of cultural sedimentation, its founders had produced at a stroke the type of society towards which Europe was shuffling with a halting gait. A native of the nineteenth century, Tocqueville inhabited a world in which European political culture and civilization itself were taken to be synonymous. Tocqueville and most of his contemporaries could only understand America in relation to the European paradigm.

This ideological Eurocentrism was vindicated to some degree by the continent’s unparalleled geopolitical supremacy. Throughout most of the nineteenth century, the United States relied heavily upon European investment. It participated in a system of international trade regulated by the British Empire, and made secondhand use of European writings in its intellectual discourse. The “Cotton Kingdom” of the American south was so closely intertwined with the British economy that some have described the American Civil War as a second war of independence; an effort to actualize and harden the formal separation between the British and American realms.

In a prose poem titled Democratic Vistas, published in 1871, Whitman could still lament the paucity of indigenously American cultural products. “We see the sons and daughters of the New World, ignorant of its genius, not yet inaugurating the native, the universal and the near, still importing the distant, the partial, and the dead[…]where, on her own soil, do we see, in any faithful, highest, proud expression, America herself?”

Near the end of the nineteenth century, Whitman’s lonely prayers began to be answered. In the realm of statecraft, the United States was stepping onto the world stage. The American economy surpassed its British counterpart in size in 1893, and the nation began to demonstrate its imperial clout with a successful intervention in the Boxer Rebellion and a spectacular victory over Spain. The intellectual counterpart to this emergent chauvinism was William James, who Maçães considers the foremost prophet of the new American civilization. A founder of American pragmatism—his nation’s singular contribution to philosophy—James argued that truth cannot be conceived of as an external, disembodied reality, holding its validity in itself and needless of human experience. Instead, truth is a creature of utility. Truth is constituted by whatever augments human life and facilitates the achievement of human purpose. What’s true is what is useful for the truth-seeking agent, and nothing more. Since truth is borne out in lived experience, and experience is constantly expanding and adapting, truth itself evolves: “reality genuinely grows”. Because experience is only manifested over time and remains a cohesive whole from one moment to the next, the experiential truth of pragmatism can only be comprehended as a narrative. Whatever makes for a good story is reality.

James both recapitulated American history and articulated the nation’s essential mythos—just as its new civilization was finally self-actualizing. In the twentieth century, America discovered what it had always been: a movement to fuse reality and fantasy. Whereas Europeans believe in the objectivity of truth, and the disparate socio-political elements of their societies engage in an effort to uncover it for the education and improvement of the collective, Americans flee from conventional realities and create new ones. Rather than attempting to reform the Anglican Church from within through the persuasions of argument or martyrdom, the Pilgrims fled into a virtual space in which they were new Israelites undertaking a new Exodus. When Americans grew weary of inhabiting the truths of the cosmopolitan east, they spun out new imaginary worlds in the west.

The foundation of the American genius is what Maçães calls the “principle of unreality”. While Europe trades in facts and arguments, America trades in stories. While European liberalism proselytizes the paradox of an objective and universal relativism, deconstructing the narratives of religion, race, and nationality, America’s “post-truth” worldview acknowledges the subjectivity of narrative identities but then embraces them all the more on account of that subjectivity. While Europeans subordinate ideology to supposedly neutral procedures devoid of metaphysical substance, Americans accommodate a “society of stories”, encouraging the proliferation of simulated realities—even when they contradict one another, since pragmatic truths become no less true when they’re mutually exclusive—and demanding only that the inhabitants of each world refrain from asserting that their reality is true for everyone. While Europeans occupy a shared reality, Americans sequester themselves in a limitless array of vivid and sophisticated fictions.

When one understands that the American project is to replace the real with the artificial—to escape from reality into story—the American cultural idiosyncrasies that have exasperated Europeans for generations become more intelligible. Americans are conspicuously religious compared to their European counterparts, but they view religion not as a set of propositions about the nature of reality that one can either accept or deny, but rather as a means of intensifying their lives and endowing them with narrative power. They own firearms not out of paranoia, but because they like to imagine themselves as action movie heroes or minutemen awaiting a new Lexington and Concord. They support capital punishment not out of wanton cruelty or cultural primitivity, but because when someone commits a heinous crime, his own death is the appropriate end of the narrative arc. Their culture wars and their agonies over political correctness have little to do with the practical effects of these things on American lives, and much to do with the stories America tells itself about itself.

Disneyland is a fitting symbol for the American ambition; it represents the attempt to instantiate fantasy worlds in physical space. The artificial realms of television are not merely windows into American life, but are themselves part of its fabric. American civilization promises an infinite variety of life-ways that may be experienced with the utmost earnestness and intensity, but are also safely insulated from real consequences. One may hop between virtual worlds as easily as one changes channels. The internet is merely an intensification of the televisual society; it facilitates an infinite proliferation of “channels” of reality, and it compels its users not simply to be but to act in order to maintain an online “presence”; and this presence is enacted primarily through the vehicle of the profile: a self-curated “narrative” personality. Every user is a character in his own drama.

One might get the impression that Maçães is a critic of American culture and its attachment to unreality, but in fact he gently encourages the United States to incorporate its novel social premises more fully. There is something to be said for unreality; or rather, there is much to be said against reality. Namely, it sucks and it’s often boring.

He closes with an exposition on how America might order its international relationships in accordance with its post-truth ideology. The most fundamental geopolitical aim of the United States since the late nineteenth century has been to prevent any single power bloc from dominating the Eurasian landmass. It successfully prevented the political partition of China between the European powers in 1900, foiling Europe’s bid for Eurasian hegemony. It fought an expansionist Germany and Japan, encouraged the dismantling of the British Empire, and pursued a policy of containment towards the Soviet Union; all variable service to the same end. China is the newest contender for Eurasian supremacy, drawing Europe and Central Asia into its economic orbit. But any anti-Chinese coalition will have to include illiberal parties, like Russia, and will have to accommodate a wide variety of disparate cultures and ideologies.

America must play the same role in the world that the unreality principle plays in its domestic life. It must accept, or even encourage, a vast array of alternative political systems among its strategic partners, even when they cut directly against American values. The task of American foreign policy is to make the world safe for the United States without trying to turn it into the United States. The wars in Vietnam and Iraq were prosecuted under a whiggish European assumption that the destiny of all nations was to progress towards an objectively valid end state. A properly American foreign policy will incorporate many national truths and construct a compelling synthetic global order in which many actors may find their own place. The new America must not engage in evangelization, but in world building.
1 review
June 5, 2020
Entertaining book, general theme or thesis is interesting and imaginative, but it's a very subjective book and idealistic in nature. Very idealistic / theoretical. For example if you look at other evidence elsewhere you can easily draw opposite conclusions, for example looking at Germany and Chinese relations at present, read this article here:

Then read this 2019 US Government report from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Reading both of those, it basically contradicts much of this book.

One can just as easily say that Germany despite having the Liberalism IR rhetoric isn't really such a strong upholder of Liberalism IR values after-all (I wouldn't use the term Western values, since that is a meaningless term, many ideologies have been derived from within the West, it's not just liberalism, but post ww2 and particularly post USSR yes it's overwhelmingly Liberalism IR values). On Germany, it turns out their words don't much their policy so much after-all, see that article, their policy towards China is actually almost entirely purely economic / self interested than anything else (one can just as easily argue aligning almost with real politik). Then US is almost the inverse, their rhetoric isn't Liberalism IR, but then read that report and actually look at US policy, the entire trade deal the US is trying to achieve with China is to bring / integrate China into the Western (liberal) trade system. How can you not get any more Liberalism IR / Liberal than that? You can't.

So point is by looking at other sources (more practical sources) people can just as easily make the argument that US really is a defender of liberalism after-all. One can easily make the case it is more so than Germany per policy action. One can even make the argument that perhaps the US is even the only last real defender of liberalism left even? Someone might argue that is a perfectly valid argument also. US gov policy makers certainly seem to think along these lines, for example from the above linked report "Both countries see the values of that order as a threat to their authoritarian models and view the United States as the leader and primary defender".

And therein lies the problem with this book. It ignores various real life events and complexities going on, it ignores real policy going on and dynamics, it chooses to ignore what it doesn't like and then selects what it likes so it can instead take off in this grand idealistic / theoretical / borderline fiction self-made narrative grand story. Not to say it isn't entertaining, but it leaves much to be desired. Now of course there is immense complexity in this subject in general. Naturally as this is a political science subject, a field in and of itself that will always be subjective in nature to a certain extent, and will be filled with flaws and contradictions. But some analysis is better than others, more quantitative, more broad evidence based taking evidence from across the board, less grand in its narratives, etc, so I feel that is an area where this books lags.

In summary I feel this book is just too much in that direction. It's basically made up, building up a false narrative. A little too idealistic for me. I'm also giving 1 star since Bruno Maçães blocked me on Twitter for making a very basic critical comment once (it was very mild). Obviously he doesn't like opposing views at all either it seems (so perhaps he isn't really into analysis after-all, so much as he is protecting his narratives and selling his books I suppose). His view aren't the only view. That's rule number one that you should learn in social science fields (including International Relations, Economics etc). You need to remain humble and open minded in these fields and be able to accept critical responses, as critical analysis and acceptance of this is an absolute necessity. He cannot even do that, which makes me start questioning his character and analytical abilities even more so. I've also noted he doesn't understand economics or geoeconomics very well either. This was apparent in his Belt and Road book, but also just by simply browsing his twitter and noting what he says on economic matters most of the time. Again, it leaves much to be desired.
65 reviews
September 23, 2020
"The United States is no longer a European nation"

"The New America is founded on a different principle. I call it the principle of unreality"

"The principle of unreality is an answer—a specifically American answer—to the shallowness of life in a modern liberal society."

"For America, the age of nation-building is over. The age of world-building has begun."

An amazing book.
Profile Image for Jim Coughenour.
Author 4 books178 followers
November 25, 2020
I’d just started Stephen Wertheim’s Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of US Global Supremacy and Scott Anderson’s The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War—A Tragedy in Three Acts when I spotted Bruno Maçães’s new book. Wertheim and Anderson illuminate the dark history of postwar Pax Americana. Maçães begins with the suggestion that US supremacy has run its course, a premise which assumes the obsolescence of the standard template of a liberal world order. Remarkably, this is not (necessarily) a book of doom and gloom. With the most recent election we’ve witnessed the battle between those committed to the hegemony of white America and what Maçães calls “the new indigenous American society,” a conflict that will no doubt endure in dispiriting ways.

Maçães isn’t especially interested in all that. Instead he turns his geopolitical imagination to a vision of a world in which the US finds its place as one among many powerful civilizations, Europe, India and China. Echoing the critical analysis of American Empire, familiar from the 60s forward, he observes that “The tragedy of American foreign policy is the way it fails to respect the mystery of the distant and the strangeness of the unfamiliar.” Neoconservatives (remember them? I’m sure they’ll be back as soon as the Mad Clown departs) imagine that the US must rule the world. That dream is over. “The age of world building has begun.”

As much as I was intrigued by Maçães’s argument, I failed to find much here to satisfy my curiosity in any detail. History Has Begun seems less convincing, less focused than The Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order. However: stepping away from the usual disaster movie and recognizing that the American experiment may actually just be getting underway is something to savor as we steady ourselves (in my case, with limited expectations) for a new administration.
August 12, 2021
It's dense and feels like loosely organized thoughts, which is a shame because there are some really good nuggets in here.

I think what's most interesting to me though is that he touches largely on the American grand narrative we tell ourselves has fallen apart (namely Christian Faith) and on a societal and individual level we're trying to figure out what that is now. People turn to fiction as a way to structure their reality and in turn reality becomes stranger than fiction. Human fiction has limits though and we exhaust our options so fast as a result and then flounder for something new. Look at the thousands of hours of content and the war for IP to produce and it all sucks. We're stuck.

"Notice how everything can find a place in this world of stories. In The Marriage Plot some characters struggle to be libertines, others want to be saints or romantic heroines or giants of science. It hardly matters. One can build a great story with all kinds of material. None of the characters takes religion or sex or science very seriously. They build stories using what they can find. They live at some distance from the goals of life, but they are careful not
to smash them because if they did they would become like Gatsby—like the existential hero of every Camus or Sartre novel—with nothing to live for. The characters in Eugenides’ books do not want to be liberated from their emotions but to have their importance confirmed. They want to be judged as scriptwriters. At a young age they felt they could be characters in a story, and growing up means accepting that they will have to write it themselves. Even the clothes they wear are chosen in accordance with the role they expect to play. Ultimately they want to become bestselling authors of their own lives or, in a word, they want to be famous."

The last sentence is very succinct assessment of so much of American culture. Everyone wants to be famous and every decision is made with that objective in mind. Reminds me of how the number one career goal for kids nowadays is not to be President, or an astronaut, or sports star; it's to be a Youtube personality. They want to be famous for being famous.

This clip of Brian Stelter on Colbert I saw yesterday really stuck with me (first two minutes or so after where I have it queued to start: https://youtu.be/WkVGqKBWza4?t=135). You can tell Stelter is just over the moon that he final has a chance to go on Colbert and before the clip starts he remarks about wishing he had his own audience to chant his name. But as you watch you just see someone who has sold his soul out to a cable news network and is just a husk of a human because he has become so corrupted with wanting to be famous. Jim Acosta is the same way. They don't care about journalism or ethics, they're wrestling heels doing whatever it takes to get attention for themselves to get a tv show and sell books.

This book was a fantastic look into the Trump presidency as it feels like Macaes is able to understand it at a meta-level and spends a lot of time going into it. I feel that unfortunately most Trump books are going to be wrapped up in whatever narrative about good vs. evil the author wants to convey. Macaes sees the presidency as just a hyper example of American fantasy. I thought this was a great quote he included: “[Trump] watched TV, and then he courted TV, and then he starred on TV, and then he became TV. He achieved a psychic bond with the creature, and it lowered its head, let him climb on its back, and carried him to the White House.”
That is why it fundamentally misses the point to compare Donald Trump to other celebrities and even entertainers in the past who embraced a political career. Berlusconi or Schwarzenegger used their fame and the technics of entertainment to appear as more genuine and more appealing politicians than they really were. They made an effort to become politicians or at least to project the image of a politician. Trump is the opposite. As Stephen Duncombe puts it, he does not use the tricks of entertainment to appear a better politician, he uses politics as a better stage for his performance as an entertainer—a paradigm shift, a Copernican turn. When asked if he would accept the results of the election, Trump ended the final presidential debate with a classic cliffhanger: “I will keep you in suspense.” Discussing possible sanctions against Turkey, he tweeted in October 2019: “Treasury is ready to go, additional legislation may be sought. There is great consensus on this. Turkey has asked that it not be done. Stay tuned!” More dramatically, he explained during a rally in Minneapolis the same month: “That was one of the greatest nights in the history of television. It was one of the highest rated evenings in the history of television.” As Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine commented in amazement, the president of the United States thinks of his own election as a show that he watched on television."

Comfortably Smug will tweet at Elon Musk infrequently about wanting Westworld and Macaes does a deep dive on how in many ways that's basically how Americans want to experience the world.

"My hypothesis is that American life continuously emphasizes its own artificiality in a way that reminds participants that, deep down, they are experiencing a story. The American way of life is consciously about language, storytelling, plot and form, and is meant to draw attention to its status as fiction. This element may range from strongly scripted structures of daily life—the prom dance, retirement in Florida—to the blurring of lines between fact and fiction, with life being subject to narrative evaluation. “Would this work in a book or television series” is a question that makes more and more sense when interrogating specific ideals of individual conduct or even political success."

Another quote that stood out:

"The childhood stories lived out in real time and space in Disneyland would eventually become the model for stories lived out everywhere. Today everything looks like Disneyland. Life imitates fiction and fiction gives up on trying to measure up. Or, to put it differently, today the fantasy has become more important than reality because reality strives to organize itself according to the fantasy. On Wall Street everything strives to approach the ideal offered by Wall Street, the movie. On campus a myriad of campus movies help make sense of events. The romantic comedy has invaded every conversation rehearsed on first dates all over town. And the White House? The White House is either House of Cards or West Wing, depending on which party is currently in power.

It's truly incredible the number of Millenials whose vision of politics is rooted in the West Wing. I remember some story hearing about folks walking through the White House and being most excited about seeing where their favorite characters worked.

Most of the good quotes are towards the end:

31 reviews
April 18, 2020
Adored it and have yet to stop thinking about it. I owe more of a summary here, but I suspect I’ll have read it again the next time I read this. America liberated from Western civ to become the land of locus eaters
Profile Image for Anton Cebalo.
22 reviews1 follower
November 13, 2022
I was expecting more from this book. After all, the title is "History Has Begun" and I picked it up hoping for a strong rebuttal to the American declinist narrative. Bruno Macaes has been very on-point with some of his writing on multipolarity and how civilizational identities are staging a comeback. But he seems to have gotten lost in the dreams he is describing, those same dreams he says will "begin history again." The book has this certain nativity about it.

Rather than rebut declinism, the book introduces America's propensity toward stories, fantasies, and dreams as a new way of governance. This is nothing new and was discussed decades ago in Ronald Reagan: The Movie (1988) by Michael Ronin and others. While interesting, it is not a particularly convincing case for America's reinvention at all. If anything, America's transition to a total fantasy has come at the expense of actual reality: its terrible infrastructure, the hollowing out of its communities, the declined quality of its discourse, and its stubborn insistence of being the world's sole superpower. Frankly, this fantasy is simply not a selling point anymore although, I admit, it has some charm in a cynical sense.

Decoupling from reality today does not bring new ideas. Instead, it causes America to crash into a wall while blaming the wall for being there because it cannot fathom anything beyond itself. This stubbornness has really poisoned its dealings with peer competitors like Russia, China, and even India. The world is simply moving on from the American dreamland. So, whose history has really begun, here?

At times, Macaes's points really beg for more elaboration. Sometimes, he repeats himself while not adding much, as if he is impressed by his own characterization of events. For example, I cannot understand how America's dream-politics are an asset when, at the end of the book, Macaes argues it was this same dream-politics that made the U.S. completely unequipped to deal with COVID. Moreover, for all his examination of "dreams" and believing himself to see beyond, he seems to take so many of them at face value. After all, this is the same author who today does not view a nuclear confrontation with Russia as possible, and any insistence on that possibility he views as "moral blackmail." This is a fantasy much graver in its delusions than the COVID saga ever was.

So, who is really doing the dreaming here? Has Macaes just fallen for the dream? Given that he is a professional European policymaker looking at America from afar, I wonder.

43 reviews1 follower
June 13, 2021
Started off strong, but became overly abstract to the point of not being very useful. I enjoyed Macaes' book on Eurasian politics, and this was written in a similar vein, but I thought the thesis was much weaker.

Macaes begins by reviewing the ways that people have thought about America as an extension of European civilization historically. He discusses Tocqueville and what he sees as the incorrect conclusions that Tocqueville drew; to summarize it, Macaes claims Tocqueville incorrectly sees the US as the culmination of the Enlightenment project, in whose footsteps Europe will inevitably follow.

I think Macaes' summaries and critiques of these theories are the strongest part of the book, because subsequently he puts forth the idea that America's fundamental break from Europe is that reality doesn't matter in America, or something to that effect. He develops a bunch of analogies based on pop culture – from Disneyland to Westworld – to make this point, and then talks about the importance of narratives in American politics and how disassociated the Trump administration is with reality. Honestly it was kind of hard to understand what he was getting at, and I essentially concluded that whatever theory he was building was not a very useful, meaningful or even intelligible one.

That said, he is a pretty fun writer to read, and he is clearly very well read. I like it when he summarizes other thinkers, such as Tocqueville as mentioned earlier. He also goes a bit into Rawls' thinking on political liberalism, which was pretty engaging though described only briefly.

Ordinarily I would have dropped the book earlier, but since it is relatively short I decided to finish it and see if it would get more concrete, which it didn't. About halfway in I started skimming, so it is possible that had I been paying much more attention I would have more out of it.
Profile Image for Pepijn van  Dijk.
33 reviews1 follower
March 15, 2021
Again, a great, counter-intuitive, book by Bruno Macaes, who’s gaining real traction as one of today’s most interesting thinkers – and prolific twiterazzi. After China and Europe he now turns to the US.

His thesis on the United States is not as multi-layered as his last two books on Eurasia and the Belt and Road, but carries nevertheless a great insight: the US is living in a fantasy world, of its own making. The laws of reality don’t apply to America anymore – it is carving out a parallel universe for itself.

The walls between Hollywood and politics, between the fake world and reality, have crumbled. Life is one big show. As Trump would say: “My election night was one of the greatest nights in the history of television!”.

We, rational Europeans will never really understand this mindset, this willingness to deny gravity. The concept of the West will change, with a post-truth America no longer the harbinger we have been relying on.

Bruno Macaes warns that the ties with former colonial power Europe will eventually be severed as the US is charting it’s own future. Free, from reality and from those with less appetite for fantasy.

Stay tuned!
December 25, 2021
The way Maçaes jumps from one topic to the next is enthralling: coronavirus, terrorism, reality and fiction, back to corona, some musings on data, metadata, all of this wrapped in a logical and fluid reflection on our current times.

The author has a quite optimistic view on technology, and as I have an academic interest in the EU, I find that the touches upon a fundamental issue: the almost luddite approach of the Union with regards to technology, since we are regulating new technologies into the ground. The comparison with China is interesting.

The book is not exactly groundbreaking, but it presents some novel points and it's quite entertaining.
Profile Image for Carlos.
2,045 reviews63 followers
November 27, 2022
I liked Maçães’ “The Dawn of Eurasia”, where he delved into the forces pushing the Eurasian continent together and those pulling it apart. I had expected a similar treatment of the United States in this book, that was not to be. Maçães focuses instead in describing the evolving political philosophy of the United States. He writes about its history, social mores, economy and even its literature. The end result is a wide ranging look at the different trends he sees coming together now and the potential paths ahead. While not altogether uninteresting, I did find it hard to wade through so much social analysis when I had expected more of a geopolitical discussion of challenges and strategies.
Profile Image for Leonard Woods.
16 reviews
November 27, 2020
The initial premise is extremely interesting and some of the history leading up to it is excellent supporting material. However, the book as a whole is a bit meandering with deep detours into the Iraq War and other items that, while connected in some ways, don’t seem to add effectively or efficiently to the theory.

Overall, worth a read for the core idea, but it could have been much tighter.
1 review6 followers
November 15, 2020
Original, thought-provoking and very plausible "theory of America": America the postmodern civilisation, the "land of stories". Writing is a bit cerebral and abstract in places, but the ideas are so interesting it's hard to stop reading.
32 reviews
October 30, 2021
Macaes does a great job of theorizing that history is no longer driven by conflicts between societies but will be driven by narratives informed by imagination of Americans and other countries that will move with their collective desires.
Profile Image for Colin.
1,364 reviews34 followers
March 9, 2023
A decent description of America's role on the works state from it's earliest days right up to about 5 minutes ago. He makes a good case for America continuing to play a positive role in the world, not as a hegemony or as a country in decline.
November 16, 2020
Intriguing idea, but disappointing book. The author has written articles, op eds, and etc. on this theme, all of which express the core idea more clearly and succinctly.
Profile Image for Germán.
64 reviews9 followers
January 3, 2021
Overtly ambitious, semi erudite and fantastically entertaining.

6 reviews
January 10, 2022
Cool concept - Americans seeing the world as a story
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
718 reviews2 followers
January 14, 2022
Some good commentary on the primacy of optics and storytelling but mostly pretty standard bookish conservative fare.
Profile Image for Ryan.
1,155 reviews150 followers
October 9, 2022
Extended comparison of US vs Europe, and the argument the US is possibly the next thing, possibly an older thing, or probably just something different.
Profile Image for Eric Randolph.
210 reviews5 followers
February 2, 2023
Takes the breach with reality occasioned by Trump and runs with it; far more interesting than all the hand-wringing return-of-fascism takes.
15 reviews
March 28, 2021
Many books feel like long-read magazine articles blown out to book length. One of the few books I wish were longer. Macaes bounces from one interesting idea from another so quickly, one keeps wishing he would slow own, and expand on the last statement.

In 200 pages, the author presents both an interesting meta-history of the United States, and an outline for US foreign policy.
Profile Image for Rudyard L..
113 reviews345 followers
October 12, 2021
An interesting thesis. You could have gotten me to agree to it. However, this book is a series of philosophic essays rather than a historical analysis. There was very little reference to data or objective material. This book was a statement about now and about how can’t work rather than a broad look into how the future would work. The difference he paints between Europe and America is a mild philosophic one, similar to that between British and Continental philosophy rather than the shift that occurred between the Byzantine and Latin Christendom.
20 reviews
March 5, 2023
I'm not entirely sure what the overarching theme to this book is after finishing it. That Americans live in a fantasy world, and that differentiates us from Europe? That we survive because of our fictions?
3 reviews
January 25, 2021
Sometimes obscure and verbose but overall highly engaging work of political theory and cultural analysis.
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