Re-Founding a Nation: Jamestown Year 1

Bruce Gilley

Editor's Note: the following three paragraphs are excerpted from Bruce Gilley's essay, "Jamestown Year 1," published by The Critic. Read the full essay here


In retrospect, they will say, Year 1 in the New American Calendar had been foretold long ago. What was needed for the fixing of a new book of days had been merely a minor distraction sufficient to rouse the New America. People talked of the death of George Floyd in the way that the French sans culottes still spoke excitedly of the ill-timed banquet for royalist soldiers hosted by the king on October 1, 1789. Time, even revolutionary time, moved faster now. It took the Jacobin legislature a full four years to adopt a new chronology, and extend it proleptically back to 1793. The American movement, with the support of major media, corporations, entertainment figures, and universities, had adopted Year 1 before the year 2020 was out.

The resetting of time was a culmination of the resetting of the American imagination. The seat of the mind is in memory, Augustine had insisted, and the American memory had long abandoned the mythical founding of 1776. The true founding, the revolutionaries had insisted not nine-months before the uprising began, had been at Jamestown in 1619, hence their addition of that moniker to the new epoch. Capture history, they knew, and the rest was a cakewalk. Dislodging founding ideas, moments, and fathers was sufficient to bring down a nation. In Jamestown Year 1, previously The Year of the Lord 2020, newborn children were given names like Georgefloyd and Antifa.

The failure of the revolution of the 1960s had been precisely its failure to debunk the year 1776. The hippies were too wrapped in the tradition. Black leaders too had appealed for inclusion as equals in the grand republic, a fatal mistake in retrospect because it legitimated the unbearable oppression of that system. As the exiled German philosopher Hannah Arendt had noted in the midst of that turmoil: “As long as this tradition was uninterrupted, authority was inviolate; and to act without authority and tradition, without accepted, time-honored standards and models, without the help of the wisdom of the founding fathers, was inconceivable.” Since those missteps of the 1960s, the revolutionaries had made it a point of “interrupting”. This favorite gerund of les enragés had at last broken the tradition, a necessary act of vandalism. ....

Read the rest of Bruce Gilley's essay here.


Photo by Matt Flores on Unsplash

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