Blood Meridian, the true horror of Manifest Destiny


There will be some spoilers, but I won't spoil the ending.

“War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner.” – The Judge

Blood Meridian is a 1985 "Western" novel written by Cormac McCarthy (also author of No Country For Old Men, and The Road). Blood Meridian is regarded by some critics, like Harold Bloom for example, to be among the greatest books ever written by an American author. It's also widely regarded as one of the most violent novels ever written by an American author. The violence is unending, shocking, and nauseating.

The aforementioned violence makes sense when you place the story within its context: The American southwest in the mid-1850's. The novel is inspired by the very real exploits of the Glanton Gang, a group of scalp hunters who worked for both the American and Mexican governments. The violence in this book makes sense within the context.

It's worth mentioning here that the writing style is unlike anything else I've ever read. It's like the most powerful parts of the Old Testament combined with Moby Dick. The word "gnostic" gets thrown around quite a bit in discussions of this book, and for good reason: You feel as if you can discern hidden truths about the universe if only you can parse the poetry. Every line, every odd word choice feels absolutely deliberate and pregnant with deep meaning.

What I'd like to talk about in particular though, is how this novel reveals the nearly existential horror of American westward expansion, and the pathologies behind it. The Glanton gang, much like the crew of the Pequod, are a polyglot group from a wide variety of backgrounds, but they are generally white, and they are employed by colonial powers to slaughter indigenous warriors and civilians both. But within this gang is a singular figure, certainly the most evil figure I've ever encountered in a novel: Judge Holden.

Holden represents the philosophical, moral, and psychological impetus for westward expansion (not just in America, but going all the way back to Columbus). His most essential value is presented here, “Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.”

Holden "interacts" with every new thing he encounters by documenting and then destroying or reforming it. For example, when he finds pictographs he sketches them, then defaces them completely. He feels it is only right, because autonomy outside of himself is seen as anathema to him. This is the (non-economic) root of westward expansion, and this is what drives our society even today to a large extent.

All the violence, all the misery and bloodshed of Blood Meridian is rooted in the desire to destroy outside autonomy, and the belief that war is the natural state of humanity. This drive to destroy outside autonomy, and this belief that war is inevitable and desirable, are pure evil. And when Holden expresses them, the reader shudders.

"War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god."-The Judge

Source: reddit post


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