…nations are based as much on what people collectively agree to forget as what they wish to remember.

In a visit in February 2019 to a photography exhibit, Imagined Communities by Mila Teshaieva, at the MIT Museum I came across this paraphrase from the late 19th century French historian Ernest Renan:

…nations are based as much on what people collectively agree to forget as what they wish to remember.

In the present moment we might revise this with the notion that culture, particularly at the level of nations, is defined by the wealthy and rulers. These are the people who write the history, control the political and educational institutions and the mass media that create and perpetuate the official culture of the nation. It should come without surprise that what they choose to forget, or to remember, serves their needs. This is a class version of the old maxim about military history (attributed weakly to Winston Churchill), “the victors write the history.”

We might revise Renan’s maxim along these lines:

…nations are based as much on what the wealthy and rulers decide to forget as what they wish to remember.

So, one of the central themes in American Delusions is the search for the facts of our past and present in order to construct a more accurate statement of our history and our present situation. These then better inform us about how our national culture functions to create or deflect expectations and to sustain the social order.