Across the southern and midwestern United States, it is common at high school sporting events to see the players join hands in prayer. This tradition has even become the subject of court cases, as it violates the US Constitution for any public school or government institution to promote religion.
Regardless, in many football fields and basketball courts, you will see American high school athletes joining hands, and led by their Coach or instructor, bow their heads, and ask for the blessing of Jesus Christ before they go out and engage in competition.
Now, what purpose does this tradition serve? High School Athletes and Coaches will be very open and honest about this. The prayer is asking God’s assistance in helping the players to fully concentrate, give their most full efforts, play to their best ability, and vanquish the opposing team.
Yes, many Coaches and Principals have joined hands with football players and basketball players and muttered the name of Jesus Christ, but to those who understand the Christian religion and its history, something seems to be oddly misplaced about this tradition. Jesus Christ, let us recall, said: “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Christ’s message and teachings, according to the Christian gospels, contained very little if anything advocating that one go out and struggle to the best of one’s ability, put forth gigantic efforts, in order to defeat a group of rivals in order to win a competition.
But yet, many Americans seems to have placed this “work ethic” at the center of their worldview. Conservative American Christians have many misattributed bits of wisdom aligning such sentiments with the Christian Gospels. For example, polls have numerous times revealed that a majority of American Christians mistakenly believe that the often quoted phrase “God helps those who help themselves,” written by Benjamin Franklin in 1736, can be found in the scripture.
If one looks into not simply the widespread interpretation of Christianity in the United States, but into wider US culture itself, one can see the unmistakable stamp of another deity, whose worship predates Jesus and Christianity among the European ancestors of many Americans. Odin, or Wotan, the god of the Germanic tribes and the Norse men, has a deep influence on US Culture.
The God of Valor and Sacrifice
Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish intellectual whose text “On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History” published in 1841, had a groundbreaking impact on European political thought, examined the influence of the pagan deity known as Odin. Carlyle described the ritual of dying Norse men slicing themselves open, in the hopes that Odin would believe they had died in battle, as only war-dead were allowed to spend the afterlife in his mystical hall of Valhalla.
As one read’s Carlyle’s description of Odin as a God of grit, self-sacrifice, and hard work, one is forced to think of American phrases like “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
American culture is no doubt deeply influenced by Germany. The most stereotypical American foods, Hamburgers and Hot Dogs (Frankfurters) both have Germanic origins. The most common American surname is Miller, often an Anglicization of “Mueller.” The religious beliefs of most evangelical Christians can be traced back to the Anabaptists, who were central in the 1848 German revolution. The very concept of being “born again” is rooted in the arguments of the German radicals protestants in opposition to baptizing infants, arguing that until adolescence, a child was incapable of truly accepting Christianity.
A great deal of American “motor mindedness” and entrepreneurial culture is rooted in a kind of Odinist worldview. Americans will say “mind over matter” and argue that anything is possible if enough effort is simply put forward. Americans will blame those who are economically destitute for their own situation, arguing that if only they had put forward substantial effort they would not be impoverished. Americans routinely attribute the geopolitical position of the United States in the world to the belief that the country is more “hard working” than other nations.
A great deal is written and discussed regarding the “protestant work ethic” and the influence of French theologian John Calvin on American history and thinking, but the influence of the Germanic pagan ethos is rarely explored.
However, the American consumerist celebration of Christmas, complete with decorated pine trees, long hours worked by retail workers, running up of credit card debt, and a mythical figure with a long white beard who appears once a year for Yuletide, reveals that Odin is quite well alive, though perhaps deeply buried, in the American psyche.
Neoliberalism & The Odinist Mindset
Neoliberal economics, promoted by globalist financial institutions, has latched on to this spiritual current among the American people very effectively. Milton Friedman was the child of Jewish immigrants from Hungary. Ayn Rand was born in Russia. Ludwig Von Mises and Fredrick Von Hayek were anything but American. Yet, the economic theories they pushed were very easily swallowed by the American people. The American culture of “hard work pays off” and “a man’s house is his castle” became a very welcome host for free-market economic theories and parasitical international banking institutions and corporations. The Odinist values of Americans have been channeled to argue for policies of de-regulation and full integration of the country into the “open international system.”
As a result of decades of privatizations, deregulations, and globalization treaties, the USA is in a state of overall economic decline. Across the USA roads are being unpaved because municipalities cannot afford to maintain them. Water is not being properly purified. The US Department of Agriculture reports that a number of households across the country are “food insecure” with access to basic nutrition at risk. The industrial middle class has been eroded by both technological advances eliminating labor, and a global race to the bottom, as corporations are free to scour the globe searching for the lowest paid workers.
The vast natural resources of the country produce huge amounts of wealth for Wall Street oil and fracking companies, while the people who inhabit the vast territories of the country, where the oil and gas is extracted, become poorer and poorer over the years.
While such circumstances in other nations might results in some kind of socialist or nationalist upsurge, blaming the corporations and banks that have swept away prosperity, Americans have largely internalized a kind of Odinist interpretation of their hardships. They watch TV programs talking of “rags to riches” and Horatio Alger-like stories in which other people have become rich through hard work and sacrifice. Americans suffer in silence, believing only they themselves can be blamed for their suffering, and if only they work harder and sacrifice more they can be better off.
Efforts to understand the economic situation in an overall or collective sense is largely absent among the population. Americans happily consume books about how to personally save money better, how to start their own businesses, and learn to think like a wealthy person, but books on the nature of the economy itself, and the economic condition of the country do not sell very well.
As their incomes decrease and their lives become less and less stable, Americans increasingly turn to opioids in the hopes of finding some level of solace. The “diseases of despair” such as narcotics, alcoholism, and suicide, are claiming the lives of increasing numbers of Americans.
Neoliberalism, which largely guts and undermines the US economy, has hijacked the “work hard to get ahead” and “go out and make something of yourself” sentiments that once were quite a boon to US society overall.
Can Socialism Fit Into American Odinism?
Among younger people in the United States, figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders are certainly popular. These figures have openly called for expanding the US welfare state, guaranteeing education and healthcare to the population, and imposing a heavier tax burden on the ultra-rich.
Millennial Americans who face a much harder economic situation than their parents are much more sympathetic to social democratic rhetoric. However, a right-wing current remains very widespread in critiquing this rising “Democratic Socialism” as un-American in its world outlook. Those who follow Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are labeled as “lazy” “spoiled” “pathetic.” They are portrayed as wanting “handouts” and “begging the government to give them stuff for free.” The term “snowflake” referring to a kind of cultivated oversensitivity and a lack of harsh consequences in the educational system has been linked to the left economic turn among the younger generation by right-wing critics. Young people who are attracted to socialism are presented as simply weaklings and who do not understand the Odinist values of grit and sacrifice that once made America great.
Some of these criticisms are absolutely valid,. The majority currents of the contemporary left, largely controlled and crafted by academia, are very much guided by post-modernism, identity politics, and ultra-sensitivity. The campus-based activist groups tend to begin meetings with each attendee stating their preferred gender-pronoun, and the rhetoric creates a kind of “self-care” therapeutic atmosphere in which victimhood is aspired to as an ideal state of being. The right accurately critiques the prevailing left as unleashing sentiments largely rooted in jealousy and resentment, and a desire to tear down those who “have it too good” and have benefited from “white privilege” or “cyst-gender hierarchy.”
However, the overall history of leftism in the United States and the world tells a different story. The history of socialism in America is not limited to post-modern whining about “its unfair” and calls for an expanded welfare state and along with a ban on “mansplaining.”
The socialist current in US society, going back to the 1800s includes figures like Daniel DeLeon, Eugene Debs, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, William Z. Foster, Henry Winston, Claudia Jones, and Huey Newton, among others. These figures, despite being leftist and anti-capitalist, espoused almost the same kind of American and Odinist values of grit, self-sacrifice, and struggle. Their rhetoric includes burning anger as well as a call for selfless courage and relentless effort to change the world.
Furthermore, their vision of socialism is not an expanded welfare state, but rather a centrally planned economy in which the people of the United States are mobilized to reconstruct the country along egalitarian lines.
When one reads the work of American Marxists from the 1930s, and see how they marveled at Stalin’s Five Year Plans, one can see a clear identification of an “Americanism” within it. Anna Louise Strong, the American journalist who became a leading pro-Soviet voice, argued in her memoir “I Change Worlds” that the Soviet construction efforts were the greatest example of the American mindset being applied.
During the Second World War, the US Marine Corps popularized the phrase “Gung Ho,” a Chinese slogan utilized by the Mao Zedong’s Eighth Route Army that means “all together” and “joint effort.” A Hollywood movie called “Gung Ho” was produced and circulated, to this day, American slang refers to having great enthusiasm as being “very gung ho.” This again shows Americans seeing their Odinist values enacted by communist, rather than capitalist and individualist forces.
The Odinist spirit of the American culture has so far only been utilized by neoliberalism. The free market advocates have effectively presented themselves as defenders of “The American Way” of hard work and entrepreneurialism. However, as the socialist movement expands and anti-capitalist ideas become more and more popular, socialism will most likely need to adjust, and also find a way to adapt itself with the “motor mindedness” and “will to power” sentiments that are central in the minds of so many working people across US society.
Americans believe in hard work, sacrifice, grit, valor, and struggle. Such sentiments are present all throughout world history, and though Americans have more than a small streak, these values are hardly unique to our shores. However, the efforts glorified by such values are most effective when they are combined. When nations are no longer held back by the irrationality of greed and the chaos of production, whole peoples and communities are capable of being mobilized to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and achieve results that are highly impressive. Collectivism not inherently a rewarding of weakness, and grit and struggle are not limited to liberal individualism.
When groups of human beings learn to pull together, their ability to achieve tremendous results is much greater. If the Americanist sentiments could be combined with socialist economics, the results could indeed be astronomical.
Originally Published in United World International