jbonaduce – Manifest Destiny (and the related concept of American exceptionalism) has definitely played a major role in shaping our identity as one people.
I do think the example Campbell provides stands out because it is so powerful – one doesn’t have to look for mentors and magical helpers, a descent to into the Underworld and such, because those are readily apparent: by the time “the children of Israel” emerge as a people in history, that origin tale is baked into their collective and individual psyches, with the most sacred rituals practiced over millennia continuing to reinforce that identity.
Though the American mythos is effective, I can’t imagine it having such a lasting influence: should our country fall and the population be scattered to the four winds, I doubt our descendants two thousands years from now would identify as Americans no matter where in the world they live. Perhaps that is because of a lack of ritual (we do have some, but those are primarily secular and lack a sense of the numinous), and perhaps because we give more credence to the countervailing myth of rugged individualism. In the U.S. we exalt the individual and tend to be suspicious of collective action (often labeling any suggestion of community-based solutions as “socialism”). Even the waves of immigrants that built our nation weren’t part of a mass migration of one people, but literally millions of individuals from a wide range of nations and ethnicities, each on their own hero’s journey.
I love your idea of re-framing the American experiment as a collective Hero’s Journey, discussing our history in terms of a collective Call to Adventure (e.g. what pulled us out of the ordinary world where we were colonies subject to an empire, prompting us to seek our own destiny), our guides and helpers, the thresholds we crossed, a death-and-rebirth initiation, etc.
Which brings us back to John’s essay, and where we find ourselves now. As he points out, we are seeing this theme of “taking the adventure together” emerge in popular art and entertainment (from “the fellowship of the ring” in Tolkien’s work, to the Starship Enterprise), which reflects a deeper sense that something is missing today:
There seems to be a universal dissatisfaction with our ordinary world—the type of dissatisfaction that inexorably pushes individuals and cultures toward the next stage that Campbell described, the call to adventure.”
Of course, one can’t stage manage a myth – but an awareness of this dynamic at work in the larger society does help me process what is going on right now, and provides a sense of hope that we will find our way.