America and the Chivalric
Excerpts from America and the Patterns of Chivalry (1982)
In making these supplementary excerpts from America and the Patterns of Chivalry, I have gone further into some of the energy clusters during the period in question, retrieved material that was buried in the notes, and indicated the breadth of the chivalric root-system.
The headings are new, and I have rearranged the sources. The Afterwords, unless otherwise indicated, are from 2008.
- Mark Twain and Chivalric Romance
- Love and Honor in Courtly Love
- Pastoral and Heroic
- Ethical Pluralism
- Secular Chivalric Values
- Winners and Losers in the Business Wars
- College as Social Transformer
- Industrial Grandeur
- Irish Styles
- Heroic and Pastoral
- Civil Primates
- “Primitive” Peoples
- Convivial Peace
- Romantic Revolution
- The Honorable Scholar
- Professionalism and Integrity
Mark Twain’s famous attack on Sir Walter Scott in Life on the Mississippi was a response to major energies.
Scott was not only the first great imaginative re-creator of the Middle Ages, with a keen sociological eye for representative types, a poetic feeling for meaning-charged settings—the castle, the greensward, the banqueting hall, the torture chamber—and a remarkable ability to build up major episodes, such as the tournament in Ivanhoe and the fraternizing of Crusaders and Saracens at the oasis in The Talisman.
He also provided a conveniently cleaned-up set of values and virtues—honor, generosity, hospitality, and so forth—that could be incorporated into the South’s new cultural self-definition. And he made vividly plausible the possibility of legitimate cultural pluralism, an idea essential to the South in its ideological struggle against the monistic North.
The South could see itself mirrored in the culture of the Saxons in Ivanhoe (1820), the culture of a supposedly primitive but in fact proud, sturdy, and morally admirable slave-owning people who rightly refused to acknowledge any inferiority to the ostensibly more sophisticated Normans who shared the country with them and were seeking to dominate them. And in The Talisman (1825), the culture of the Saracens, as embodied in the nobly chivalrous Saladin, was in no way inferior to that of the Crusaders who faced them across the ideological divide, any more than Scotland’s culture was inferior to England’s. …
The Delaware-born Yale teacher and editor of the Saturday Review of Literature Henry Seidel Canby recalls how in the Eighties and Nineties, “What we fell upon, read besottedly, thought about, and were moulded by, were most of all the novels of Sir Walter Scott.” (1) The influence of Scott and of writers like Dumas and R.D. Blackmore, the author of the glorious Lorna Doone (1869), was being reinforced by irresistible contemporary imports like Treasure Island (1882), Kidnapped (1886), and Conan Doyle’s The White Company (1890). In the Nineties, according to Canby, British and American historical romances became “a landslide, millions of copies circulating among all classes except the proletariat … so that each season it was certain that virtually every literate American had read one such book.”
He comments that, “I am sure that Scott and the near Scotts and the school of Scotts were such real determinants of inner life for readers brought up in the eighties and nineties that no-one will understand the America of that day without reading and pondering upon” Ivanhoe and novels like Winston Churchill’s Richard Carvel (about the period of the War of Independence), Stanley Weyman’s Under the Red Robe (about Richelieu’s France), and Booth Tarkington’s Monsieur Beaucaire (about eighteenth-century England). (2) (America and the Patterns of Chivalry, pp. 7, 9–10.)
Mark Twain and Chivalric Romance
The attitude of America’s own Cervantes towards the chivalric was in fact a complex one. If Twain attacked historical chivalry as strongly as he did, it was partly because he himself was incurably fascinated by the chivalric spirit. And despite his voiced esteem for ‘the wholesome and practical nineteenth-century smell of cotton factories and locomotives,” (1) his writings are those of someone who adored romance.
His lightly fictionalized Life of Joan of Arc (1895), on which he spent twelve years and which he said he liked the best of all his works (“and it is the best” (2) vibrates with enthusiasm for Joan’s “soldier spirit” and for her martial successes against the occupying English. The Prince and the Pauper (1881), though nastier in some of its details than bestsellers like Edward Caskoden’s When Knighthood Was in Flower (1898), is every bit as romantic an incursion into Tudor England, the occasional gestures toward period realism in it only serving to underpin the preposterous romantic plot, the pluckiness of the two young heroes, and the loyalty of the out-at-elbows gentleman Miles Hendon, appropriately played in the 1937 movie by Erroll Flynn.
The earlier chapters of Life on the Mississippi (1993) are alive with the glory of the great river, the palatial riverboats, and those marvelous beings the riverboat pilots. And Huckleberry Finn (1885) that ideal romance of a young hero passing unscathed through a series of physical and moral perils, is the creation of someone as steeped as Tom Sawyer in romantic fiction.
Moreover, Twain’s presentation of of the ceremonious, patriarchal Southern household of the Grangerford’s is admiring to the point of hero-worship, particularly in its treatment of Colonel Grangerford himself, and he also gazes respectfully through Huck’s eyes at that other Southern gentleman Colonel Sherburn, when he coolly and single-handedly faces down by sheer strength of personality the plebian lynch mob that has come in search of him after his shooting of old Boggs.
In general the comparison of Twain to Cervantes has much more than a surface truth to it. The poet Roy Campbell shrewdly says of Cervantes that “I always feel that he used Quixote to show up the banality and bathos of modern life, which was beginning to settle over Europe as early as the sixteenth century when commerce succeeded to prowess and valor as the chief means of subsistence,” and that in another of his works he did “as much to exalt Spanish chivalry and courage as he is supposed to have done to ridicule it in Don Quixote.” (3) Twain, too, cared passionately for the chivalric values, and in his best writings, Huckleberry Finn and the first half of Life on the Mississippi, he was transposing them into genuinely American terms. (America and the Patterns of Chivalry, pp. 46–47)
[Afterwords] For a fuller exploration of the subject, see “ ‘Civilization’ and Romance in Huckleberry Finn.” I deal there, among other things, with the insensate Grangerford-Shepherdson blood-feud and Sherburn’s “honor” killing of the terrified and unarmed Boggs, who persists in yelling drunken public abuse at him after the public deadline given him. Twain indeed hated the kinds of things that he is well-known for hating—at bottom, tyranny, justified by doctrinaire ideologies, including religion, and the mind-forged manacles of crowd-thought.
But unlike a lot of later American commentators, he was able to hold more than one order of facts and values in his head at the same time, without attempting a spelled-out synthesis, and without adjusting them so that one annihilated the other, after the present fashion, in the interests of having a uniformly correct “position.” If the tone and texture are to be trusted (and what else is there, here?) we are not meant to be viewing ironically Huck’s celebration of the civilization of the Grangerford household or his praise of Colonel Grangerford (4). Twain would have had no trouble with the idea, implicit in Ken Burns The Civil War, that, while abominating the slavery, and the pre-war fire-eating that sought to extend the slave empire into other states, General Josiah Chamberlain was right to honor at the laying down of arms the heroic endurance of the Southern soldiery.
Twain also recognized creatively, at the end of his attempted exorcism in A Conecticut Yankee in the Court of King Arthur (1889), the consequences of binary thinking in which “peace” and “war” were two totally separate but not equal states, with “aggressive” war-making simply crime and irrational disorder writ large and requiring ruthless police-action to suppress it.
The apotheosis of peace-making super-weaponry in literature was the holocaust in A Connecticut Yankee, in which the anachronistic Arthurian civilization became fair game for the massive technological violence of the civilization-beating Boss and his handful of young technocrats. As the Boss explained to the “fresh, bright, well-educated clean-minded young boys” near the end of the novel,
This campaign is the only one that is going to be fought. It will be brief—the briefest in history. Also the most destructive to life, considered from the viewpoint of proportion of casualties to numbers engaged. … English knights can be killed but they cannot be conquered. … While one of these men remains alive, our task is not finished, the war is not ended. We will kill them all.
Not only did the brief ensuing battle, with its mines, and electrified fences, and machine guns leave the chosen fifty-four with 25,000 knights dead around them. The victory climaxed a campaign in which, as the narrator freely conceded, “all England [was] marching against us!” And because there was apparently no way of persuading the country—now in the implacable grip of the Church and unreason—back into the paths of enlightenment, it was natural enough that during the holocaust the hero should have “touched a button” and produced an explosion in which “all our noble civilization-factories went up in the air and disappeared from the earth. It was a pity but it was necessary. We could not afford to let the enemy turn our own weapons against us.” (1)
So much for pacific reasonableness and the wholesome and practical civilization of the nineteenth century. (APC, pp. 184–5)
Love and Honor in Courtly Love
The courtly-love relationship enhanced the vitality and satisfied the desire for power of both parties. It was the antithesis of the pattern described by H.L. Mencken, paraphrasing Nietzsche, in which “woman spent her entire effort in a ceaseless effort to undermine and change the will of man.” (1) The woman received the services of the man and was given power over him and over his honor. But, as Hemingway would note apropos of the corrida in The Sun Also Rises, she returned his power to him and enabled him to increase his honor more than he could have done unaided, thereby enhancing her own as well. … The reciprocity was not restricted to fiction, either. The erotic, as Huizinga says, has always been an element in “sportive struggles,” (2) and the pattern in Chrétien de Troye’s eminently believable tournament, organized by ladies looking out for husbands, and graced by knights lounging with the ladies in the stands and commenting on the combatants, was deep-rooted. (3)
Moreover, the game of love itself was a contest between equals, in which respect was due on both sides. Huizings, describing how in the twelfth-century Courts of Love in Languedoc there were imitation lawsuits, and how such forms as the rebuke, the dispute, and the game of question and answer figure in poetic genres, adds that “at the bottom of all there is … the age-old struggle for honor in matters of love.” (4) And the rules of the love game, as set out in a treatise like Andreas Capellanus’s The Art of Courtly Love and illustrated in the discourses in Chrétien’s Cligés, were sophisticated and subtle. As Sir Gawain and the Green Knight demonstrates in the graceful but serious verbal fencing with which Gawain rejects the advances of his hostess without offending her, such ritualizations made honorable relationships psychologically easier on both side.
With their continuation of the esteem accorded women in the early Middle Ages in Celtic and Northern European literature, such attitudes were all the more striking in contrast to the widespread disparagement of women by clerical and bourgeois writers. (5) (APC, pp. 76–7)
Pastoral and Heroic
In the medieval patterns a number of things that are usually thought of as opposites, sometimes irreconcilable opposites, come together harmoniously. There are “masculine” adventurousness, competitiveness, and glory-seeming, and “feminine” nurturing, loving, and comforting. There are the excitements and challenges of the wild, the unknown, and the mysterious, and the reassurances of the ordered, the humanized, the enclosing. There are the crafts of war and hunting, and the graces of social intercourse. There is the erotic connection noted symbolically in Malory’s passing remark that “the book of venery, of hawking and hunting, is called the book of Sir Tristram” (1) —that is, of the Tristram of the Tristram and Isolde story.
In On Power (first ed. 1945), Bertrand de Jouvenal observes that “notable philologists claim … to have found two strata of cults: the terrestrial cults of an agrarian and matriarchal society, later overlaid by the celestial cults of a warrior and patriarchal society.” (2) And a great deal of literary culture, as Huizinga points out, has been based on the ancient themes of what he calls the heroic and the bucolic. (3)
These themes are displayed classically in the Odyssey, with its occasional shocking violences and its benign images of Mediterranean plenitude, its journeyings among marvels and its yearnings for home, its menacing seas and sheltering courts, its monsters and its comforting (and in one instance dangerous) women, its tensings and relaxings of the hero’s psyche. They are what I shall refer to henceforward as the heroic and the pastoral. (APC, p.77)
The knightly code itself offered substantial latitude with regard to the correct conduct in particular situations, including such problematic relationships as Lancelot’s to Arthur, and Tristram’s to King Mark. The range of acceptable ideal types in the romances is broad. It includes Ector the unromantic battler, Lancelot the great warrior serving his mistress, Tristram devoted almost wholly to love, Pereval and Galahad devoted to the quest for the Grail, Kay the skeptic and ironist. And an important co-existence went on.
There were, of course, logical conflicts within the chivalric code between Christian and non-Christian elements. There were conflicts too—ultimately unresolvable ones—between the claims of loyalty to one’s lord and loyalty to one’s mistress, as dramatized in the story of Lancelot and Guinevere. In terms of their dramatic presentation, however, the very different value systems at work in the courtly love Death of King Arthur and the churchly Quest of the Holy Grail coexist without any overall intimations that the experiences of the characters in the one are any less serious and meaningful than those of the characters in the other.
All the knights whom I have mentioned are treated with respect by Arthur and their fellow knights. Even when Lancelot accidentally slays Gawain’s brother and starts the feud that destroys the kingdom, there is no implication either that Lancelot should not have stayed faithful to Guinevere or that Gawain should not have sought revenge. (APC, p.72)
Secular Chivalric Values
Insofar as it was independent of Christianity, the chivalric ethos did not suffer from one of the obvious disadvantages of the latter in an increasingly secular world.
The ideal character types that Christianity held up for emulation all depended for their validation upon an invisible cosmology. A saint was not just someone acting in certain ways, he was someone who believed in a particular cosmology with absolute conviction, so that it was therefore difficult to imitate his behavior if one disbelieved in the cosmology. In the chivalric system, in contrast, the appeal of the behavior of individual figures did not depend upon any metaphysical system. The behavior of those figures, and of others like them, was the chivalric system.
One of the greatest of the works about chivalry is the story of a man who was invulnerable to all the attacks of reason and logic against him. Quixote simply believed unshakably that it was nobler for him to behave in certain ways than in others. And the reader, contemplating the arrogant bureaucrats, journeying Inquisitors, prisoner-herding soldiers, complacently patronizing aristocrats, pastoral-playing lovers, boorish peasants, and prudent proto-bourgeois men of “good sense,” had good cause to share that belief. Quixote, the secular saint of chivalry, was immune to irony. (APC, p.249)
Winners and Losers in the Business Wars
Ostensibly, all should have been well with the gospel of success that reached its apogee in the Nineties and was trumpeted in works like Andrew Carnegie’s Triumphant Democracy, that major prophetic book of the period. The gospel was a natural enough response to the achievements of men like Carnegie and Rockefeller, with their dramatic testimonies to how a poor Scottish immigrant or a humble Ohio bookkeeper could soar to riches beyond the wildest dreams of European avarice.…
But if success was quantifiable, so, unfortunately was failure. Speaking in 1896 of “the general popular tendency to make the accumulation of wealth the one sign of worldly success, and to estimate men by the size of their income, from whatever source derived,” E.L. Godkin, the founding editor of the Nation, pointed out that “there is probably in American today a nearer approach to a literal meaning of the English term ‘worth,’ as meaning a man’s possessions, than ever occurred elsewhere.” (1)
Logically, if earning a lot of money made a man a glorious success morally as well as financially, then earning little made him a doubly contemptible failure. Because everyone, once the shackles of aristocratic privilege had been removed, started equal, he had failed to use his will-power and bring into play the industriousness and self-discipline that would guarantee anyone’s rise. And because, in Social Darwinist terms, stronger organizations and organisms won out naturally over weaker ones, he was also contemptible because he lacked vital energy. He was like those “small-fry craft,” “wretched little farms,” and “yellow-faced male miserables” that Twain sneers at in Life on the Mississippi from the point of view of the all-powerful riverboat pilot (2), or like the quintessential loser George Wilson, the sickly garage keeper in the valley of ashes in The Great Gatsby, whom Tom Buchanan cuckolds and whose death he causes.
As John D. Rockefeller complacently remarked, “the failures which a man makes in his life are due almost always to some defect in his personality, some weakness of body, or mind, or character, will, or temperament.” (3)
Hence the Progressive Frederic Howe could recall of the millionaire political boss Mark Hanna that “his lordship over his associates was scarcely concealed. They were vassals of a system, but vassals of Mark Hanna as well,” and H.G. Wells reported a friend’s comment that J.P. Morgan’s manner toward those around him “was Roman … There had been nothing like it since the days of that republic. No living king would dare do it.” (4) Hence, too, as former President Grover Cleveland complained in a magazine article in 1903, “the deference to those who have won great fortunes has grown in many quarters to be so unquestioning and so obsequious as to amount to scandalous servility.” (5)
For if one committed oneself to the view of success that I have described, there was no logical appeal against the results. As Wells said of the magnates, “people have committed suicide through their operations; but in a game which is bound to bring the losers to despair it is childish to charge the winners with murder.” (6) (APC, pp. 96–98)
College as Social Transformer
Before it could bring any real gain, money had to be transposed back into terms of individual qualities, the possession of certain skills and graces. And those skills and graces were more public and varied than the ones that made a man rich. One could become a multimillionaire and yet, like Jay Gould or John D. Rockefeller, be reclusive, secretive, uninspectable. In contrast, the qualities that brought success in college life, like those in the chivalric romances and tournaments, had to be highly inspectable. And more than one kind of success was possible, none of them involving monetary valuations.
One could be good at sports, or shine on the college newspaper, or possess the social skills that gave entry into prestige societies. One could beat the academic system by skillful faking, or even, occasionally, by doing some work. Different stages of success were possible—the freshman’s, the sophomore’s, the junior’s, the senior’s—with no depreciation of lower ones by higher ones. Group or team success was possible, and with it the achieving of distinction by way of the collectivity, not despite it. Larger alternative patterns of success were displayed in the differences noted by Scott Fitzgerald between the top universities—the intellectuality of Harvard, the muscularity of Yale, the irony of Princeton.
The industrial world was a world possessing an awesome momentum, as exemplified by the engine at the 1878 Centennial Exibition in Philadelphia that stirred William Dean Howells with its “vast and almost silent grandeur” and ineffable strength—“an athlete of steel and iron with not a superfluous ounce of metal on it” (1)—or by the forty-foot dynamo at the Paris Exposition that so impressed Henry Adams at the end of of the century with its impersonal symbolic force. In 1902, Frank Norris said of Chicago that it was ‘Empire, the natural subjugation of all this central world of the lakes and the prairies.” (2) His attitude was echoed by the wealthy young New Yorker in Owen Johnson’s The Sixty-First Second, who exclaimed of Wall Street that “the whole vibrating industry of the nation is here within a quarter of a mile—the great projects of development, the wars of millions, the future of immense territories to the West and the South.” (3)
Hence, paradoxically, reformism was perceived as not only unmanly but immoral. It was natural that people had what Winston Churchill in his popular political novel Mr. Crewe’s Career (1908) called “a faith in the divine right of Imperial Railroads to rule.” (4) It was natural that power and order came together and that the Senate was unabashedly the instrument of business. It was natural and it was moral, and to object to such things was to be against both order and nature. (APC, p.117)
[Afterwords] Whence the great importance of Teddy Roosevelt (Theodore to his intimates) in shifting the balance of psychological power, who, when he was elected president in his own right in 1906, would become the most popular president since Andrew Jackson, and the best-known pubic figure anywhere. (4)
The new possibilities that Roosevelt displayed were related to another development, without which they would not have had the impact that they did. In the later Nineties, the American-Irish generation born in the Sixties and Seventies were coming to maturity. Roosevelt’s potency for the well-bred Protestant young who identified themselves with figures like the Three Musketeers was partly due to his embodying romantic qualities that they perceived in the Irish. And by helping to validate some of the more problematic Irish characteristics he made it easier for the Protestant young to move closer to Irish patterns, and for the Irish young to have more confidence in those patterns.…
And the higher educational system saw the emergence of new-style Irish gentlemen and sportsmen, such as the Georgetown and Oxford-education, polo-playing editor of Collier’s, Rob Collier, “handsome, elegantly dressed, with great personal charm, a flair for the dramatic gesture, and a buoyant Irish humor,” (1) or Joseph P. Kennedy, whose all-round prep-school career in the early 1900s later reminded Fortune of Frank Merriwell.…
Moreover, far from being machinelike, Irish political life was remarkable for its sociability. The fictive spokesman of the emergent Irish, Finley Peter Dunne’s beloved Mr. Dooley, was, appropriately, a saloon keeper. As the reformer Frederic Howe had noted, ward politics was basically the politics of the Irish clan transposed to the city. The working man gave his loyalty to chieftans who took his individual problems seriously. And the saloon, so important in ward politics, was a pastoral-heroic locale of drinking and eating, of storytelling and elaborate boasting, of fighting and gambling. It also served as a base for the gangs that had evolved out of the construction gangs in the earlier part of the century, and the Irish gang, as the historian William V. Shannon points out, “put together in an amalgam of its own the precepts of loyalty, obedience, and neighborly cooperation emphasized in the home with the ideals of aggressiveness, daring, and self-help imparted in the school.” (2)
Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, would remember discovering, to her surprise, that at Tammany Hall during the Wilson years, “a lady was invariably treated with respect and gallantry, and a poor old woman with infinite kindness and courtesy.” (3) (APC, pp. 124-127)
[Afterwords] Collier’s, with McClure’s one of the two most influential investigative-journalism (aka muckraking) periodicals of the period, was run by a triumvirate. Rob Collier, who had taken over the editorship from his father, was remembered by Finley Peter Dunne as “the Beau Sabreur of journalism in his time.” (4) Norman Hapgood, from an old New England family, had become bored with law and turned to journalism. And Mark Sullivan, the son of poor Irish immigrants, was like Dink Stover’s beau ideal and role model at Yale—in his case, at Harvard,
Heroic and Pastoral
What emerges from books of reminiscences like Philip Ashton Rollins The Cowboy (1922) and Andy Adams’s lightly fictionalized Log of a Cowboy (1905) is a picture of energetic gun-carrying men who were nevertheless civil and non-aggressive in their dealings with one another. Alfred Henry Lewis reported that, “at work on the range and about his camp the cowboy is a youth of sober quiet dignity. There is a deal of deep politeness and nothing of epithet, insult or horseplay when everyone wears a gun.” (1) Rollins recalled that on the range the cowboys’ “nursing was faithful and untiring, however amateurish, for a dangerous life tends to make men womanly; and the average puncher was womanly, though heaven knows he was in no wise ladylike.” (2)
The same character pattern had been observable during the Civil War in unfailingly courteous figures like Lee, Jackson, and Grant. They would be remarked upon by Hemingway when he spoke of the curious gentleness of bullfighters ad professional boxers. They would be apparent in a number of the hunter-gatherer communities studied by anthropologists. It was the sensed presence of such patterns, rather than any quasi-Hobbesian notion of the inevitability of violence and dominance, that would eventually be responsible for, among other things, the popularity of Konrad Lorenz’s writings in America in the Sixties. I am thinking particularly of his paradox that wolves, those supposedly ferocious and merciless predators, do not in fact fight one another to a finish, and that they respect the rules of warfare with regard to surrender, in contrast to the supposedly pacific doves who peck their fallen rivals to death.
Hemingway pointed to the same kind of paradox in Death in the Afternoon (1932) when he said that “the bull is a fighting animal and where the fighting strain has been kept pure and all cowardice bred out he becomes often, when not fighting, the quietist and most peaceful acting in repose of any animal,” and that “when they both know how to ue the horn the combat usually ends as does a fight between two really skillful boxers, with all dangerous blows stopped, without bloodshed and with mutual respect. They do not have to kill each other for a decision.” (3) (APC, pp. 82–83)
The Lorenxian paradox also operated in the appeal of the image of primate communities that had been built up by the end of the 1960s in the writings of C.R. Carpenter, Irven De Vore, S.L. Washburn, Claire and W.M.S. Russell, Jane van Lawick-Goodall, and others. In their accounts, the primate communities in their native habitats—free-ranging, food-gathering, and integrated into their own socially meaningful territories—were very different both from the Rousseauistic image of “natural” man that Sade attacked so forcibly and from Hobbesian, Sadean, and primitive Social Darwinist notions of tooth-and-claw natural ferocity.
The admirable features of a number of the described communities, such as the relatively small amount of intra-group violence, the relative abstention from serious inter-group violence, the willingness to compromise, and the rareness of dominative pseudo-sex, were inseparable from the communities being for the most part fairly highly structured ones. But that structuring, and the shiftings and adjustments going on in it all the time, depended not on so-called brute force but on the combinations of strength, skill, inventiveness, determination, and courage that both made for effectiveness in combat and lessened the need for combat. Like the gentleman, the primate leaders were prepared to fight if fighting was inescapable. But engaging in combat would simply be the most intense manifestation of the qualities that made them leaders in the first place and gave them the authority to arbitrate the daily life of the group with minimum force.
Moreover, those qualities of character permeated the community as a whole. The daily life of the group—its food-gathering, socializing, and infant rearing—might wear an enviably innocent pastoral aspect. But in the relationship of the group to an environment in which risks were never entirely absent, the watchful stance of the group leaders was to some extent appropriate to and partaken of, by all the group. (1) (APC, p.255)
In the traditional enlightened view, hunting was simply killing, and the dreadful consequences of being a hunter-killer were classically defined by Crevecoeur in Letters from an American Farmer (1782) when he said of American frontiersmen that “the chase renders them ferocious, gloomy, and unsociable; a hunter wants no neighbor; he rather hates them, because he dreads the competition” (1) But the relative non-violence of hunter-gatherers has been noticed by a number of investigators, among them Colin M. Turnbull, Elman R. Service, and Stanley Diamond, and was a feature of the new image of the Indians that emerged in the writings of men like George Bird Grinnell, Charles Eastman, and, a little later, Paul Radin. An interesting visual indication of the changing popular perception of Indians is provided in the contrast between Frederic Remington’s warrior horsemen from the Nineties and N.C. Wyeth’s meditative forest dweller, circa 1907–1909, in Susan E. Meyer’s America’s Great Illustrators (NY, Abrams, 1978).
The reasons for the relative non-violence of hunter-gatherers are obvious. Hunter-gatherer communities can provide the individual with what Edward Sapir calls “a feeling of spiritual mastery” and what Erich Fromm describes as “effectiveness,” the feeling of being able to advance “toward a goal without undue hesitation, doubt, or fear.” (2) In their hunting a premium is put on skills and problem-solving; prestige comes unequivocally from performance, as it did in the tournament, and not from accident of birth, the possession of private sources of wealth, or trickery, and a good deal of sharing and mutual assistance goes on, as well as the enjoyment of what José Ortega y Gasset calls “that basic feeling of risk which is the substance of man.” (3) The activities and attitudes of some of the present-day American hunters described in Cleveland Amory’s lacerating Man Kind? (NY, Dell, 1975) are another matter, of course.
Apropos of the growing emphasis on the pastoral as well as the heroic aspects of the Indians, it should be noted that in 1895 Grinnell wrote that
The Indian woman, it is usually thought, is a mere drudge and slave, but, so far as my observations extend, this notion is wholly an erroneous one. … The place of woman in the tribe was not that of slave or of a beast of burden. … In many tribes women took part in the councils of the chiefs; in some, women were even the tribal rulers; while in all they received a fair measure of respect and affection from those related to them. (4) (APC, pp. 254–5)
If in radical terms “criminal” groups like the Russian Nihilists would be able to enter peaceably into the just society after it had been achieved, as Robin Hood’s band did under good King Richard, the reason would not just be that they had been on the winning side. The right kind of pacific society did not differ sharply from the non-pacific.
The fraternal characteristics that I have described were common to a number of groups and activities that demonstrated the admirableness of peace and the contrasting hatefulness of large-scale war. They were features of Mabel Dodge’s salon on Fifth Avenue, with its poets, journalists, actors, anarchists, labor leaders, and others, and of the free-form editorial conferences of the Masses, and of the Provincetown Players who were started in 1910 by John Reed and George Cram Cook and became, with the Washington Square Players, the prototypical American little-theater group. They were features of the IWW and of the organizing of the Paterson Strike pageant in 1913 to raise money for the silk strike in Paterson, New Jersey.
All these activities permitted a free interaction between peers and displayed the “profound affinity between play and order” that Huizinga speaks of. All involved a broad range of personalities, a variety of satisfying roles and functions, an abundance of talk, the give-and-take of humor. All were agonistic, all were reasonable, in all the sexes met as equals. These values would be operative for a time in the thinking of younger radicals like Joseph Freeman and Mike Gold, for whom the Masses group and especially John Reed were inspirational.
In the early Twenties Gold, who had joined the Wobblies in 1915, told Upton Sinclair how “I love humor, joy and happy people. I love big groups at play, and friends sitting about a table talking, smoking, and laughing. I love song and athletics and a lot of other things. I wish the world were all play and everybody happy and creative as children. That is Communism, the communism of the future.” His Twenties play about the Mexican Revolution ended with the words, “All—Viva la fiesta (the orchestra strikes up and all sing Adelita and dance the jota: Drinking, shouting, singing, laughing, the curtain falls on them to the shouts of Viva Zapata! Viva Mexico! Viva la Revolucion! Viva la Fiesta!” (1) (APC, p. 188)
[Afterwords] Gold would subsequently, as cultural commissar in the New Masses, have a short way with dissenters that had nothing in it of “the communism of the future.”
As Octavio Paz notes in his brilliant study of Mexico, The Labrinth of Solitude (1950), “most revolutions, although they are presented as an invitation to realize certain ideas in the near or not so near future, are founded on an attempt to restore a legal or social order that has been violated by the oppressor.” (1) Just as Mexico, with its great cry of “Tierra y Libertad!” once embodied the revolutionary tradition on the North American continent, other more or less radical societies have likewise seemed to make it possible to live intensely in the present in ways that continue the energies of the past.
Civil War Spain, for example, as defined classically in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, was a country of pastoral-heroic style and ritual in which a romantic intellectual (fittingly incarnated in the movie by Gary Cooper) could be accepted by aristo- democratic guerrillas and become heroically a man of love and war, nourished by the spirit of place and the sane pleasures of the senses, and recapturing some of the élan of the American Civil War. Spain permitted you to feel that
You were taking part in a crusade. That was the only word for it, although it was a word that had been so worn and abused that it no longer gave its true meaning. … It was a feeling of consecration to a duty towards all of the oppressed of the world. … But the best thing was that there was something you could do about this feeling and ths necessity too. You could fight. (2)
For a good many people, similarly, Israel in the late Forties and Fifties, epitomized by the kibbutznik tilling the soil with a Sten gun slung over his or her shoulder, offered a way of life free both from the business ethos and from success-hunting in a cultural bureaucracy. And its strong and literal pastoral-heroism (for Walker Percy’s Lancelot Lamar the Israelis were “the only Crusaders left in the entire Western world” (3) ) linked up with the Biblical past of heroic fighters in a land of milk and honey.
Castro’s Cuba, likewise born out of combat, had followed the classic Good Outlaw revolutionary pattern during the struggle against Batista and his torturers and had gone on to demonstrate exciting possibilities of power-charged peasant dignity and cooperation that decisively refuted the imperialist view of feckless Latin America.
Above all, Mao’s China as seen through radical eyes appeared to offer a long-term transcendence of constrictive dichotomies. Energized by over thirty years of heroic warfare and by a continuing sense of enemies to be faced and difficulties overcome, it updated the heroic pastoralism of movies like Sergei Eisenstein’s The General Line (1929) and enabled the urban and the rural to interpenetrate in a process of mutual enrichment in which workers managed their affairs by collective discussions, bureaucrats were answerable to their clients, and intellectuals engaged periodically in manual labor and did not lose touch with the peasant base of the nation. Behind it stretched a centuries-old culture that valued grace and style and honorableness. (APC, pp.192–3)
[Afterwords] The ironies become bitter, of course, when one turns to the realities laid bare in a book like Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao; the Secret Story (2005). But unless one understands the strength of a disposition, one may be baffled by the persistence of an illusion. Particularly when the disposition is not in itself ignoble. (4)
The Honorable Scholar
The association of intellectual and knightly honor is an old one. The great Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga reports how:
Long after the Middle Ages a certain equivalence of knighthood and a doctor’s degree was generally acknowledged. … The two dignities of a knight and of a doctor are conceived as the sacred forms of two superior functions, that of courage and of knowledge. By being knighted the man of action is raised to an ideal level ; by taking his doctor’s degree the man of knowledge receives a badge of superiority. They are stamped, the one as a hero, the other as a sage. (1)
There are significant overlappings between the two figures.
Both, in their ideal aspect, are devoted to the ascetic life. Both possess arduously acquired skills and a large body of knowledge. Both are expected, before receiving their authentication, to have shown endurance, persistence, dedication, a heightened sense of values, the acquisition of a corporate conscience, a contempt for mere money-making and comfort. Both are required, in theory at least, to approximate themselves to exemplary figures. In Huizinga’s words, “the essence of chivalry is the imitation of the ideal hero, just as the imitation of the ancient sage is the essence of humanism.” (2)
And like the knight who has committed himself to a quest or to the service of his lord or his mistress or of the Faith, the scholar is prepared to affirm that there is nothing higher or more beautiful than the truth to whose service he is dedicated. Like the knight, too, he gives his word that his achievements have been arrived at honestly and honorably, without falsification, without shortcuts in the interests of money or prestige, without unacknowledged indebtedness.
Truth-seeking, for the honorable scholar, is a personal but not merely personal enterprise, in which honor, risk, and daring continue to be realities. He must work with the kind of energy and commitment described by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. when he said,
If you want to hit a bird on the wing, you must have all your will in a focus. You must not be thinking about yourself, and, equally, you must not be thinking about your neighbor; you must be living with your eye on that bird. Every achievement is a bird on the wing. (3)
The honorable scholar sets the claims of truth above those of decorum, of deference, of corporate security and comfort, of personal advancement, risking the kinds of sanctions invoked against a figure like Thorstein Veblen who dared attack the power of authority, vested interests, and pseudo-professionalism.… (4)
Behind him is the example of Socrates, ready to take on all comers. And in Socrates one has the totally committed intellectual, all of a piece, the man not only of truth but of courage and grace, who was prepared to pay the final penalty for his commitment—on the face of things a counter-image to the heroic figure committed to violence in the service of an idea; in reality, its double. (5)… (APC, pp. 223–225)
Professionalism and Integrity
In professionalism more generally, civil and martial values and attitudes overlap with respect to truth. In both, integrity in a sense precedes truthfulness. That is to say, the man of integrity seeks and tells the truth because it would be intolerable to his self-respect to do otherwise.
The honorable professions all affirm that there are higher values than monetary ones and have agreed-upon codes of behavior that transcend national and religious borders, with penalties for violations of those codes. In all of them prestige is important, particularly with fellow professionals. They all celebrate what Veblen called the instinct of workmanship and affirm that there are determinable degrees of relative excellence. They all call for consistency and dependability in their practitioners.
They all insist that the professional is a truth-facing individual who scans the options without self-deception, accepts the way the figurative cards or dice have gone in a particular situation, recognizes that unpleasant things may sometimes have to be done because the other alternatives would all be worse, and is not afraid to reverse a stand when fresh facts come to his or her attention. (APC, pp. 225–6) (1)
1. Henry Seidel Canby, The Age of Confidence: Life in the Nineties (NY, 1934), pp. 190. 199, 191–192. On the history of bestsellerdom, see Frank Luther Mott, Golden Multitudes: The Story of Best Sellers in the United States (NY, 1934). The Winston Churchill referred to here is an American novelist, not the British politician and author.
Notes: Mark Twain and Chivalric Romance
1. Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, introd. Albert Bigelow Paine, Stormfield Edition of the Writings of Mark Twain (NY, Harper, 1929), ch. XL, p.333.
2. Mark Twain, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc: by the Sieur Louis de Conte, 2 vols., pref. Henry Van Dyke, introd. Albert Bigelow Paine, Stormfield Edition of the Writings of Mark Twain (NY, Harper, 1929), I:xx, vol. 2, p. 203.
3. Roy Campbell, “The Spanish Dramatists: A Note,” in Calderón de la Barca, The Surgeon of His Honour, trans. Roy Campbell, introd. Everett W. Hesse (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1960), p. xxix.
4. “There warn’t no frivolishness about him, not a bit, and he wasn’t ever loud. He was as kind as he could be—you could feel that, you know, and so you had confidence. Sometimes he smiled, and it was good to see; but when he straightened himself up like a liberty-pole, and the lightning began to flicker out from under his eyebrows, you wanted to climb a tree first, and find out what the matter was afterwards. He didn’t ever have to tell anybody to mind their manners—everybody was always good-mnnered where he was. Everybody loved to have him around, too; he was sunshine most always—I mean he made it seem like good weather. When he turned into a cloud it was awful dark for half a minute and that was enough; there wouldn’t nothing go wrong for a week.” (Life on the Mississippi, ch. XVIII)
1. Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, introd. Albert Bigelow Paine, Stormfield Edition of the Writings of Mark Twain (NY, Harper, 1929), ch. XLIII pp. 428, 435, 430, 432.
Notes: Love and Honor in Courtly Love
1. H.L. Mencken, The Philosophy of Nietzsche, 3rd ed. (Port Washington, Kennikat Press, 1967 ), p.178.
2. Johan Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages: A Study of the Forms of Life, Thought and Art in France and the Netherlands in the XIVth and XVth Centuries (Garden City, NY, Doubleday Anchor Books, 1959 ), p.80,
3. See Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances, trans. and introd. W.W. Comfort, Everyman’s Library (London, Dent, 1968 . The still immensely readable Chrétien went on a few decades later from that brazenly inventive fictionist the Welsh “historian” Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain (1136), and between them the two created the essential configurations of the Arthurian mythos, supplemented later in the century by the lovely Lays of Marie de France. The mythos received its definitive shape in the next century in the five French prose romances known as the Vulgate Cycle, of which Malory’s early-Tudor Le Morte d’Arthur(1485) would be substantially a condensation and retelling, not always for the better.
4. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages, p.125.
5. The non-puritanical tolerance and sexual equitableness that I have been describing had an actual sociocultural basis, especially in the south of France, where women enjoyed more power and prestige than in the north. Of the mid-twelfth-century Eleanor of Aquitaine, whom he calls “the most willful and powerful woman of her day” and “by far the fittest … to carry the code of the troubadours into the suspicious north,” Michael Foss suggests that “the true infancy of Arthur, Lancelot, all those goodly and fair ladies,” was spent in her and her children’s courts, Chrétien having written his romances at the court of her daughter, the Countess Marie. (Foss, Chivalry[London, Michael Joseph, 1975], p.107.)
The editor of Andreas Capellanus’s The Art of Courtly Love reports that the book “almost certainly” was meant to show conditions at Eleanor’s court at Poitiers. (John Jay Parry, introd. and trans. [ NY, Columbia University Press, 1941], p. 21). That court, says Foss, “was a very southern assembly, necessitous knights, landless young squires, a clutch of demoiselles of a marriageable age but as yet unpaired, a bewildering warren of children, adventurers, brawlers, poets, singers, a sporting, litigious, amorous crew, without the sobriety or rationalism of the north, united chiefly in a … search for pleasure.” (APC, p.107)
Notes: Pastoral and Heroic
1. Malory, Le Morte d’Arthur, vol.1, p. 242
2. Bertrand de Jouvenel, Power: the Natural History of Its Growth, 2nd. rev. ed., trans. J.F. Huntington, pref. D.W. Brogan (London, Hutchinson, 1947), pp. 80–81.
3. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages, p.39.
Notes: Winners and Losers in the Business Wars
1. Edwin Lawrence Godkin, Problems of Modern Democracy:Political and Economic Essays, ed. and introd. Morton Keller (Cambridge, Mass., The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963 ), p. 301
2. Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, pp.89–91.
3. John D. Rockefeller, Random Reminiscence of Men and Events (NY, Arno Press, 1973 ), p. 152.
4. Frederic C. Howe, Confessions of a Reformer, introd. John Braeman (Chicago, Quadrangle Books, 1965 ), p. 152; H.G. Wells, The Future in America; A Search after Realities (London, Chapman and Hall, 1906), p.138.
5. Grover Cleveland, “The Integrity of American Character,” Harper’s, 112 (December 1903), p.67
Notes: College as Social Transformer
Epigraphs to chapter 6, “Quality and Education”
“Most of our rich men were once poor boys,” said Rose quietly. “I have a book of biographies at home, and I find that not only rich men, but men distinguished in other ways, generally commenced in poverty.”
“I wish you’d lend me that book,” said Ben. “Sometimes I get despondent and that will give me courage.”
The task is not to overcome opponents in general, but only those opponents against whom one has to summon all one’s strength, one’s skill, and one’s swordsmanship—in fact, opponents who are one’s equals : To be one’s enemy’s equal—this is the first condition of an honorable duel. Where one despises, one cannot wage war.Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo (1888)
Happy, happy, college days!Mark Sibley Severance, Hammersmith: His Harvard Days (1878)
(APC, p. 87)
Changing images of the pleasures of college life can be usefully observed in the line of novels that runs from William T. Washburn’s Fair Harvard: a Story of American College Life (1869), via Mark Sibley Severance’s Hammersmith: His Harvard Days (1878) and John Seymour Wood’s College Days; or Harry’s Career at Yale (1894), to Owen Johnson’s quintessential Stover at Yale (1912)—novels set respectively in the Fifties (the first two), the early Seventies, and the early Nineties, and all by alumni. The authors are increasingly conscious of the sequence of “typical” college experiences as forming a sequence, and by the time that Dink is sent through the system a good part of the interest comes from the question of how creditably he will do at each stage.
(APC, p. 259)
Notes: Industrial Grandeur
1. William Dean Howells, quoted in The American Heritage History, p.236.
2. Frank Norris, quoted in The American Heritage History, p. 236.
3. Owen Johnson, The Sixty-First Second (NY, Stokes, 1913), p. 218.
4. Winston Churchill, Mr. Crewe’s Career (NY, Macmillan, 1908), p.3.
Notes: Irish Styles
1. Theodore P. Greene, America’s Heroes; the Changing Models of Success in American Magazines (Oxford U.P., 1970), pp.220-221.
2. William V. Shannon, The American Irish, rev. ed. (NY, Macmillan, 1966), p.36.
3. Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew (NY, Viking, 1948), p.24.
4. Finley Peter Dunne, Mr Dooley Remembers; The Informal Memories of Finley Peter Dunne (Boston, Little, Brown, 1963), p. 218
[Afterwords] To indulge in the obvious: the ideological essence of the appeal of Hollywood “America” during WW2 was Jewish producers and Irish actors; William F. Buckley, whose initially underdog and still maverick National Review contains mordantly funny writing, is of Irish-Catholic descent; and the national coming-together at the funeral of Ronald Reagan, with its unforced gravitas, was a poignant testimony to the sense of loss of Presidential values transcending the binary.
Notes: Heroic and Pastoral
1.Alfred Henry Lewis, quoted in William W. Savage, Cowboy Life: Reconstructing an American Myth (Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1975, p. 157.
2. Philip Ashton Rollins, The Cowboy: an Unconventional History of Civlization in the Old-Time Range, rev. and enl. ed. (NY, Ballantine Books, 1973 [1922, 1936]), p. 68.
3. Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon (NY, Scribner, 1932), p. 127.
Notes: Civil Primates
1. [Afterwords] Frans De Waal and F.B.M. De Waal’s and Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes (1982) fascinatingly presents the results of extended observations of a chimpanzee colony in what appears to have been a sufficiently spacious and variegated area in a Dutch zoo. While going into far more detail, it amply corroborates the view that I have described here, with lots observed and explained about the negotiatings, power plays, alliances, and shifting status of members of the group. The females, while mostly less ambitious and at times rambunctious than males, engaged in their own maneuvers and were important as social ballast, their good opinions being sought by the males, who suffered when it was withheld.
The authors point out that chimpanzees are strong and dangerous animals and that you don’t go into their territories.
Peace does not result from beating up on the beast in man, or inoculating him with some kind of physical or spiritual pacifier. It comes with the right structures. It is a balancing of energies.
Notes: “Primitive” Peoples
1. J.Hector St. John Crèvecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer [Garden City, NY, Doubleday Dolphon Books, nd], p.57.
2. Selected Writings of Edward Sapir in Language, Culture and Personality., ed. and introd. David C. Mandelbaum [Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1958], p. 323; Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness [NY, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973], p. 189.
3. José Ortega y Gasset, quoted in Stanley Diamond, In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization, fore. Eric R. Wolf [New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1974], p. 117.
4. George Bird Grinnell, The Story of the Indians, pref. note by Ripley Hitchcock (NY, Appleton, 1896), pp. 46, 244.
Notes: Convivial Peace.
1. Michael Gold, quoted in Daniel Aaron, Writers on the Left; Episodes in American Literary Communism (NY, Harcourt, Brace and World, 1961), p. 99; “La Fiesta: A Comedy of the Mexican Revolution in Three Acts,” manuscript in Library of Congress, ca. 1925.
Gold (b. 1894 in Manhattan as Irving Granich), said later that the Masses “became my guide and teacher, as it was to a whole generation of youth, “ and remembered of John Reed that “thousands of American workers and young people worshipped that tall, swaggering westerner, with his big, humorous green eyes, his broad shoulders, and capacity for love, poetry and adventure.” He had followed Reed in spending time in Mexico. (Gold, “The Masses Tradition,” Masses and Mainstream 4 [August 1951], pp.46, 52, 46; Freeman, An American Testament: a Narrative of Rebels and Romantics [NY, Farrar and Rinehart, 1936], p. 257.)
For his fellow Communist at New Masses, Joseph Freeman (b. 1897), whose family had immigrated from the Ukraine when he was seven, Reed’s life, together with that of the “Texas giant,” the brilliant Masses cartoonist Robert Minor, seemed “a model for middle-class intellectuals who went over to the proletariat.”
In his boyhood, “Happy Hooligan and Buster Brown [had] marched across [my imagination] with Jean Valjean and d’Artagnan,” while one of his friends was “that wonderful American thing I was trying to understand, a good sport,” and Sir Philip Sidney a hero who combined “ action with poetry.” At Columbia, where students did papers on Castiglione’s The Courtier, Sidney’s sonnets, and “the chivalrous characteristics of men,” he “wrote about Don Quixote not as a comic figure but as a rebel dashing himself against the unjust world, a Spanish Shelley with lance instead of pen.”
There, “four streams of my life converged.…literature, echoes of adolescent Zionism, American radical thought and memories of Wobbly romance.” (pp. 301–3, 57, 21, 374, 85, 119, 104).
Notes: Romantic Revolution
1. Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude:Life and Thought in Mexico, trans. Lysander Kemp (NY, Grove Press, 1961), p. 142.
2. Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (NY, Scribner, 1940), p. 235.
3. Walker Percy, Lancelot (NY, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1977), p. 178.
4. [Afterwords] Yes, ironies, ironies, ironies. But they are too easy. As Aquinas said, or so I have been told, a demon is good in so far as he exists, and bad in so far as the existence is imperfect. For another take on the enduring hunger for, and at times, and to varying degrees, achievement of, the convivial creativity that I have been talking about, see Lisa Appignanesi’s The Cabaret (New Haven, Yale U.P., 1975, 1984, rev. and enl.2004). See also “Being There Together,” the third of the three Alexander Lectures in my Nihilism, Modernism, and Value (1990, rev. 2001).
Notes: The Honorable Scholar
1. Johan Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages, pp. 66–67.
2. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages, p.39.
3. Oliver Wendell Holmes, quoted in Merle Miller, Plain Speaking: a Biography of Harry S. Truman (NY, Berkley, 1974), p. 373.
4. It is worth noting here that shortly before his marriage in the Eighties, Veblen had translated the Laxdaela Saga, described by two recent translators as “essentially a romantic work, romantic in style, romantic in taste, romantic in theme, culminating in that most enduring and timeless of human relationships in story-telling, the love-triangle” (Laxdaela Saga, trans. and introd. Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Paulsson [Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Penguin Books, 1969], p. 9).
5. Interestingly, the figure of Yvor Winters, who displayed a fiercer integrity and a prouder sense of the dignity of letters than any other American critic, has been largely ignored by American academic admirers of the heroic in art because of his “ill-mannered” disregard for magic shields. It was Winters, too, who got into trouble at his own university in the early 1930s for his successful efforts on behalf of an innocent man condemned to death in part because of “expert” testimony by members of the prestigious Stanford medical school. He wrote of the trial that it displayed
The villainy of pride in scholarship,
The villainy of cold impartial hate,
The brutal quiet of the lying lip,
The brutal power, judicial and sedate
Outrage and anarchy in formal mien.
(“To a Woman on Her defense of Her Brother Unjustly Convicted of Murder.”)
(APC, p. 288)
[Afterwords] To speak as I have done here may seem a bit quaint when viewed in the light of all the cheating scandals of the past several years, up to and including academics falsifying their cv’s, plagiarizing the works of others, and inventing “facts” out of whole cloth—and being published by reputable presses that show no remorse when the truth comes out.
But ideals, even when not fully realized, are pointers in the direction that this or that configuration of energies ought to be moving if it is to achieve what it is supposed to achieve. The collapse of American trust in Congress during the past decade, not to speak of the Administration that began in 2001, is an all-too-ample demonstration of what happens when a tipping-point is reached with respect to the amount of “normal” political prevarication that can be tolerated.
When that point is reached, the conviction settles in that individuals who have been caught out in such serious lies, and have broken such solemnly-made promises, can simply not be trusted about anything. A pervasive disconnect between language and reality is deadly, not least in its bearings on the socialization of the young. If a President lies on-screen with every appearance of sincerity, or engages in tricky verbal manoeuvers of self-exculpation, why shouldn’t they do the same?
Notes: Honorable Professionalism
1. The historian John Lukacs was quite right, in one sense, when he asserted that society is threatened “not by the absence of justice,” but by “the fantastic prevalence of untruth,” insofar as the justice of which he speaks is the distributions of goods in accordance with this or that blueprint of the good society. But in another sense truth and justice are inseparable, and in the absence of the agonistic patterns that I have described, the ostensibly more just society—a society managed by benevolent bureaucrats and objective “experts”—will not only not feel but not be just. (The Passing of the Modern Age [NY, Harper and Row, 1970], p. 160 (APC, p. 228)
© John Fraser