“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
While that quote was originally attributed to author John Steinbeck, it has subsequently been disputed. Whoever said it, it immediately rang true.
The ‘American Dream’ is hard to define, but has its roots in frontier America – a time where every man and woman was out to carve out a space for themselves in the land of milk and honey – you can almost trace a blueprint for the corporate ‘every man to himself’ culture that is so entrenched in the American mind.
Academic Ted Ownby identifies four American dreams: the ‘Dream of Abundance’, the ‘Dream of a Democracy of Goods’, the ‘Dream of Freedom of Choice’ and the ‘Dream of Novelty’ – that are all markedly material and/or individualist attitudes towards the kind of society America provides.
So while the poem on the Statue of Liberty may say, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. You could almost append that with ‘after that, you’re on your own pal’.
Do you recognise any of the Maltese way of thinking in this? Malta’s amoral familism manifests itself in similar terms – except, of course, they relate less to the Statue of Liberty poem and more to Trump’s wall.
When you read the following quote from Steinbeck, do you not recognise the society you inhabit?
“It has always seemed strange to me,” said Doc. “The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success.”
This, surely, is why the Maltese applaud both the Labour Party and Nationalist Party MPs and leaders who cling to their positions regardless of fault, and award their friends and family direct orders. There’s a degree of admiration for the person who elbows his way past the queue to get to the head of the line.
This is also why the Maltese prove so callous in the face of women claiming domestic abuse and refugees seeking shelter.
The relatively newly independent country of Malta is claiming new frontiers for itself – both literally in the acquisition of land, and figuratively in the dubious realms of cryptocurrency, gambling, and the selling of passports – and in doing so it predicates itself on a set of values that are expressly not socialist.
The issue is that this is self-evidently self-destructive. A society built on the premise that every man and woman is out for him/herself is a society that is clearly doomed due to a lack of a sense of civic duty and social cohesion.
Individualism has become an end in itself, bereft of ties to a larger community of meaning, without the efforts to develop and shape common projects.
In short, if Malta is going to have any hope of the prospect of a ‘community’ it will need first to start inculcating in its citizens the understanding that they do not live in a vacuum. Whatever Malta’s geographical reality, no man – or country – is an island.