“Even what is best in American life is compulsory — the idealism, the zeal, the beautiful happy unison of its great moments,” wrote philosopher George Santayana. “You must wave, you must cheer, you must push with the irresistible crowd; otherwise you will feel like a traitor, a soulless outcast, a deserted ship high and dry on the shore.”
Santayana, a Spainard who spent four decades in the U.S. as a student and Harvard philosophy professor, must have been quite the wet blanket at those Harvard-Yale games.
“America is all one prairie, swept by a universal tornado,” he wrote. “Although it has always thought itself in an eminent sense the land of freedom, even when it was covered with slaves, there is no country in which people live under more overpowering compulsions.”
In fact, Santayana retained enough cool-eyed mid-Atlantic detachment to see that Americans’ feverish celebration of individualism was often just a nervous disguise, a thin veneer covering their practice of strict conformity — and hiding it even from themselves. These “go-it-alone do-it-yourselfers” prostrate themselves before dogma and banners, U.S. or Confederate or both. American corporations loathe individualism and personal freedom, but love to peddle the illusion of both. The result is that Americans think individualism means finding your first name on a Coca-Cola bottle. Despite his wariness about the madness of mobs, Santayana DID cheer at Harvard-Yale games — but not without a cooler, broader understand of what was going on. “That Harvard should beat Yale at football is most gratifying,” he wrote to his friend George Sturgis. “I used to care immensely about this, and one of my projected books is largely based on that experience. It seems to me to explain all politics and wars."