A third example: cinema. Once again utter simultaneity in all countries and languages, the cultivation of the same performance, the same taste (or lack of it) in masses by the hundreds of millions. The complete cancellation of any individuality, though the manufacturers gloriously extol their films as national: the Nibelungen triumphs in Italy and Max Linder from Paris in the most German, most nationalistic constituencies. Here, too, the mass instinct is stronger and more authoritarian than the thought. Jackie Coogan’s triumphal appearance was a more powerful experience for our day than was Tolstoy’s death twenty years ago.
A fourth example is radio. All of these inventions have a single meaning: simultaneity. Londoners, Parisians, and Viennese listen at the same second to the same thing, and the supernatural proportions of this simultaneity, of this uniformity, are intoxicating. There is an intoxication, a stimulus for the masses, in all of these new technological miracles, and simultaneously an enormous sobriety of the soul, a dangerous seduction of the individual into passivity. Here too, as in dance, fashion, and the cinema, the individual acquiesces to a herdlike taste that is everywhere the same, no longer making choices that accord with internal being but ones that conform to the opinion of a world.
One could infinitely multiply these symptoms, and they multiply themselves from day to day on their own. The sense of autonomy in matters of pleasure is flooding the times. It will soon be harder to list the particularities of nations and cultures than the features they share in common.
Consequences. The complete end of individuality. It is not with impunity that everyone can dress the same, that all women can go out in the same clothes, the same makeup: monotony necessarily penetrates beneath the surface. Faces become increasingly similar through the influence of the same passions, bodies more similar to each other through the practice of the same sports, minds more similar for sharing the same interests. An equivalence of souls unconsciously arises, a mass soul created by the growing drive toward uniformity, an atrophy of nerves in favor of muscles, the extinction of the individual in favor of the type. Conversation, the art of speaking, is danced and sported away, theater brutalized into cinema; literature becomes the practice of momentary fashions, the “success of the season.” Already, as in England, books are no longer produced for people, but increasingly as the “book of the season”; as in radio an instantaneous form of success is spreading which is announced simultaneously from all European stations, and annulled a second later. And since everything is geared to the shortest units of time, consumption increases: thus does genuine education—the patient accumulation of meaning over the course of a lifetime—become a quite rare phenomenon in our time, just like everything else that can be achieved only by individual exertion.
Origin. What is the source of this terrible wave threatening to wash all the color, everything particular out of life? Everyone who has ever been there knows: America. The historians of the future will one day mark the page following the great European war as the beginning of the conquest of Europe by America. Or, more accurately, the conquest is already rippingly underway, and we simply fail to notice it (conquered peoples are always too-slow thinkers). The European countries still find the receipt of a credit in dollars a cause for celebration. We continue to flatter ourselves with illusions of America’s philanthropic and economic goals. In reality we are becoming colonies of its life, its way of life, slaves to an idea profoundly foreign to Europe: the mechanical idea.
But our economic obedience seems to me minor compared to the spiritual danger. The colonization of Europe would not be so terrible politically; to servile souls all slavery is mild and the free always know how to preserve their freedom. The genuine danger to Europe seems to me to be a matter of the spirit, of the importation of American boredom, of that dreadful, quite specific boredom that rises over there from every stone and every house on all the numbered streets. The boredom that does not, like the earlier European variety, come from calmness, from sitting on the park bench playing dominoes and smoking a pipe—a lazy waste of time indeed, but not dangerous. American boredom is restless, nervous, and aggressive; it outruns itself in its frantic haste, seeks numbness in sports and sensations. It has lost its playfulness, scurries along instead in the rabid frenzy of an eternal flight from time. It is always inventing new artifices for itself, like cinema and radio, to feed its hungry senses with nourishment for the masses, and it transforms this common interest in enjoyment into concerns as massive as its banks and trusts.
America is the source of that terrible wave of uniformity that gives everyone the same: the same overalls on the skin, the same book in the hand, the same pen between the fingers, the same conversation on the lips, and the same automobile instead of feet. From the other side of our world, from Russia, the same will to monotony presses ominously in a different form: the will to the compartmentalization of the individual, to uniformity in world views, the same dreadful will to monotony. Europe remains the last bulwark of individualism and, perhaps, of the overly taut cramp of peoples—our vigorous nationalism, despite all its senselessness, represents to some extent a fevered, unconscious rebellion, a last, desperate effort to defend ourselves against leveling. But precisely that cramped form of resistance betrays our weakness. Rome, the genius of sobriety, is already underway to wipe Europe, the last Greece in history, from the table of time.