While you’re in the midst of moving, I thought I’d catch up on a few back items which my current reading has brought to mind.
At the beginning of a recent post, you referred to a poet named Ruth Stone who, appropriately enough, with a metaphor said if you see a fast idea, you’d better catch it before someone else arrests it. Those weren’t the exact words of her image, and therefore not quite her picture. But I think they’re representative of what she initially said, and also rather apter. If ideas have no rest mass, then stopping them destroys them. Of course that’s not the Platonic perfection view of reality. In that belief realm, sublime ideas somehow animate our flimsy and filthy world, but are themselves unmoved. Such eternities can’t be caught, only approached, preferably with searing piety and the apology of personal diminution. In that eternal world view, timelessness is the long life. That contrasts with our present vitality view of world love where to stop life is to kill it. To live now in no-time is indeed rather more perilous, but it’s also so much more exciting. Why be bored with the universe!
When I initially read the beginning to that post, my first thought — or, rather more accurately, my immediate reaction — was, “Well, umm, ahh, hmmm.” Clearly I wasn’t in a hurry to catch it! That’s not because it wasn’t worth apprehending. But rather, I thought the whole imagery required a more unhurried consideration. So I let it be so it might grow some more. Then later, if I was right, I could pick it, and enjoy its fruits and blooms. And if I was wrong, I could let it wither, and blow off like a tumble weed in the winds of unclocked time.
Last night I was reading in the New Grove “Dictionary” the entry on Ferruccio Busoni. Grove is a 20-volume reference source on music I recently acquired in virtually new condition — some of the books were still in their shrink wrap! — for a price which, including come-ons, was amazing: $31. It’s true that the set is missing Volume 6. How could someone lose a large volume of an encyclopedia they hadn’t unwrapped yet let alone read?! Regardless, when you consider that each volume is 800 pages double-columned and in small print, the price per thousand words is one of the best reference deals I’ve ever bagged in my used books adventures. Used book hunting an urban form of big game sport. You should see my trophy room!
Meanwhile, as a scholar, I feel obliged to advise you that there’s a newer New Grove. Yes. It’s 29 volumes! I’ll leave that one to the libraries. And notice hidden, in the nicety of the obligation, the pay-off of the automatic insurance policy. “He didn’t know!? Oh!!” Oh, yes, I know. But just as politicians of all three branches must constantly watch their backs for the subtle insertions of political stilettoes, so scholars must protect their backs from the textual insertions of knife-like citations. It’s a wonder that any politician, after all their daily survival defense routines, has any time left for actual work. Remember Hobbes’ state of nature? Politicians, like states, approximate it. Look at the state of nature the Democrats craft for Trump every day! Though, as you know, while the press inundates public opinion with alarms of imminent resignation and thrills of instant impeachment, Trump’s cabinet is busy at work. And their deeds go unnoted by the general media. Trump and the Republicans must be crying crocodile tears for that! You could almost think it was choreographed — that some Republican Philbys had ascended to the top of the Democratic Congressional leadership. Meanwhile, the same defensiveness is true of scholars. So many papers in philosophy, at least, read like insurance policies: mostly exceptions, little coverage.
I doubt you’ve ever heard of Busoni. He does make a brief appearance in The Cat Who Loved Beethoven. There his abbreviation is advantageous. Meanwhile, the reason Busoni isn’t well known is unwittingly provided by himself. At the end of the seven-column Grove’s article on his life and works, the following sentence appears which, for its illumination, I’ll quote in full. “Always an artist in quest, Busoni saw it as the goal of his creative life to find his ‘own individual sound.’” As I mentioned in a previous post, if you’ll only listen to people, they’ll tell you what’s wrong with them.
Busoni said more about the creative process in a sentence than most thick texts on aesthetic theory say in volumes. I don’t mean that such texts have Webern-sized chapters written by Wittgenstein-like conceptualists. The result: crippled idea microscopy. I mean they have long chapters which host a democracy of ideas. Much is said and little is decided. But everyone gets equally included inconsequentially!
Of course, you don’t hear Busoni’s music because Busoni never found his sound. And the reason he didn’t find his sound is that he was looking for it.
You might think that Busoni either didn’t look hard or long enough, or with true passion or sufficient commitment, or at the right time or in the right place. But none of those methods will ever work. You can only find your voice — your style — your tone — by not looking for it. This isn’t a paradox of Zen-depth silence, or an exercise of non-conceptual belly button psychology. “Put away the geometry and just say Om! And everything will be alright.” Great! And that’ll get the steaks done medium rare in the center and seared on both sides? And big hunks of robust bread are toasted the same way and done at the same time? And ditto the time for the corn which is slightly blackened? And when you go to the soul doctor, just open your mouth and say Om! And he’ll check your spiritual tonsils for excessive germs. And when you turn your head, remember to cough in Japanese for the species tonsils.
The reason you’ll never find your own style — as Busoni didn’t — is simple: artistic style isn’t a thing that can be sought and found. Style is the result of an artist at work solving problems throughout a lifetime of aesthetic productivity — or at least a goodly portion thereof. Style is a concomitant — even a by-product — of the work of making art, not the effort itself. Style is never the goal of any successful art work. It can’t be. The goal of the artist is to finish his current work and get on with the next one, preferably after its placement or sale, and a drink or two, and a carnal diversion first. If you do this enough — I mean the work — with a dedicated, devoted, and even devout givenness to the solution of significant problems, you’ll have a style.
But you’ll never know it.
The artist cannot see or hear his style. What he hears is the absence of his style. He hears that absence when he’s still at work. That means the work isn’t done yet. And when he hears no more objections, the work is finished. Then he hears nothing. Stylistically nothing. The work sounds neutral to him. Perfectly neutral.
Of course, everyone else hears the style. They hear him. They hear his soul tone and world voice. But he never hears himself. And if he does, he’s imitating himself. And then his art will begin to corrupt with the curiosities and weaknesses of aesthetic incest. Picasso spent the last several decades of his life faking himself.
As for chasing after ideas that are rushing by, I can now diagnose the defect in Ruth Stone’s remark. Should you ever find yourself in an idea chase, it’s almost certain you won’t catch the idea in time. That’s because it’s already been caught by someone else. Even more likely, it’s been caught by many people. A rushing idea is a group thought that’s “in the air.” Your sighting of it is already a captured event. You don’t need to catch the thought. The thought has caught you. And it’s not your thought! And it never will be no matter how much you struggle — like Busoni — to give it a tone of your own. Its tone will be that of the times. Oh, you might disguise it with a strange modulation, or a curious adjective, or an odd color to render it “unique.” Of course, everything is somehow unique. But the somehow is usually unimportant.
Meanwhile, the great “captures” aren’t bagged by a .458 or a butterfly net. They’re spotted by the (p)(re)cognition of their absence. The genius of the concept hunter consists of tracking ideas whose traces aren’t there.
Today’s depth mantra of happiness is this: “Anyone can find the answer, but finding the question requires genius.” The cliché has its merits. But to find the absence in the words — the tones — the images — which then spawns a question: that’s the interiority in which the struggle occurs that results in style. And for that there is no hurry. The universe isn’t in a hurry. And neither am I.
Think of Beethoven. Beethoven clearly created something new in music, an indispensable disposition that no one had previously manifested or even imagined. It’s already present in his precocious piano sonatas, the first quartets, and the “Eroica.”
Alright, it’s 1804. Beethoven is now public. The idea of Beethoven is now as free as the air. Does everyone start grabbing it and doing Beethoven? No. Beethoven isn’t a technology that can be reverse engineered and duplicated. Beethoven is an inner response to human universality. The style we call Beethoven is the expression of a personality given to spiritually solving a succession of world problems. We don’t know what the problems were. Like Hamilton’s privacy, the world isn’t privy to them. But we do have Beethoven’s solutions: the music. Afterwards, not even Beethoven could have said what was wrong. But when we hear the music, we surmise greater needs.
If you’re in a hurry to get to the patent office in time, that’s reasonable. Remember Bell Telephone? Bell beat the other guy by a minute. But if you’re in a hurry to grab an idea, you’re wasting your time. At best the result will be journalism in words. Or in images, illustration. Or in music, background. There are job opportunities there. But not style. Or character. Or you. Unless you’re contemporary generic.
Here’s a political example of why I’m in no hurry. On p. 200 of Second Chance, Brzezinski writes, “America is a genuine democracy.” A genuine democracy. Meanwhile, Brzezinski’s credits include Professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins. Wow! We’re talking about the world thought words of players: makers, shakers, and breakers. Phew! If Brzezinski had called America merely a democracy, he could excuse himself for casually lapsing into current usage. “Of course, by ‘democracy’ we all mean a republic.” Gesundheit! Bitte! But the unequivocal qualification “genuine” precludes any such word evasion in a statesman-professor who writes serious books about significant policy affairs.
Concerning the word “democracy,” I theoretically estimate that at least a generation of contention against Wilhelm the Hun and Stalin the Red was required before America was “weened” off the word “republic” and taught to slurp from the plastic cup of “democracy.” Therefore, I expect at least a generation will be needed to undo that political switcheroo and return America its pilsner. So I’m patient — if diligently and insistently so. (See my Republic for tactical praise of that maneuver as the strategic war use of a civilian word. (Ch. 41.))
And, now in passing, notice my reference to butterfly nets. Can you even buy such toys — or weapons! — for summer fun in almost any and every store now? Probably not. Undoubtedly there are fewer butterflies around. The probable reasons need not be rehearsed here. Meanwhile, butterflies shouldn’t be killed. They should be cultivated. I grow butterfly and bee plants in my gardens. You should see the bees when a hundred mint plants bloom! Meanwhile, Stone Age Republicans probably keep nets in their trucks to show they’re tough. “$%*@&flies! Where’s my net!” “Net? Hell, Biff. Shotgun!” Alas, that isn’t tough, though it is loud. And such frustrated loudness anticipates and motivates brutality. In contrast, what is fundamentally tough is the strength to command: to order with rational equanimity, and to execute without spiritual injury.
Consider a historical confirmation of our current human condition in nature. In the Sumerian epic, “Enmerkan and the Land of Aratta,” the Golden Age is described in part as follows: “There was no wild dog, no wolf, / There was no fear, no terror, / Man had no rival.” It’s easy for us psychological sophisticates to see that early civilization attributed to the past — “the beginning,” “the gods” — that which they fantasized having some day. Well, the fantasy has happened. Indeed, humanity is so successful in the domestic control of its greater civilization spaces, wolves are being re-introduced to the human biosphere. But just wait till a couple of precious American children — I mean 12 year old girls, preferably blond for the press — get eaten.
The current cultural divide — Trump or Lies! v. Trump or Love! — divides over butterflies like this. The Democrats will say that we should preserve and respect butterflies because God is good and — whoops! — nature is good and humans are bad because they do what they want to do which isn’t what we told them to do and therefore they should look guilty in public and feel sick within so we can counsel them with adequate compensation and abased thanks. The Republicans will say that humans have become so strong in the ascendancy of their civic business republics that conserving nature rather than destroying it is now the greater strength and that by doing so we humans will feel the thankfulness of our amazing greatness.
I’m sure you’ve heard that the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Baily Circus closed this summer for good. Incarcerating wildlife is the same situation as hunting butterflies. We humans no longer need to tame lions to display the primal fierceness of our ferocious reason — and the vengeful pleasure we take in our unexpected ascendancy in the strange nature in which we find ourselves. Trying to save lions from dentists and extinction now unleashes and harnesses a greater strength. But the interpretation of that self-control is and will remain a matter of spiritual faction and psychological divide, yin and yang, Democrat and Republican.
Consider now some of Woodrow Wilson’s remarks which I came upon recently in a discursive political volume. Unfortunately, I don’t have a citation for them. Don’t you hate books that quote sources without proper citations when you’re in an apparatus hurry? Of course, they shouldn’t be hated. They should be scorned with contemplative contempt! Hatred is too good for them. Meanwhile, I’ve set myself the task of finding the ursourse. Indeed, I’ve often meant to read Wilson. I keep finding historical hints that Wilson, rather than the obvious FDR, is America’s deep cover red ideologue: the socialist in the star-spangled horse.
Let me quote a few bits of the piece I read. ‘“…in fundamental theory socialism and democracy are almost if not quite the same. They both rest…upon the absolute right of the community to determine its own destiny and that of its members…. Men as communities are supreme over men as individuals…. The difference between democracy and socialism is not an essential difference, but only a practical difference…of organization and policy, not…of primary motive.”’ Since this doesn’t sound like a campaign speech, and since Wilson was an acclaimed Ivy League professor and celebrated academic author, I assume his words and his meanings match. Therefore, Wilson most certainly isn’t talking about a republic — a big republic — a compound republic — the American Republic: by which is meant, if not always said, the American Republics. In all of these republican arrangements, no one has absolute power. Ever. No one has anything absolute in a republic. Never. The absence of the absolute is indeed the ur-idea of liberty. Clearly Wilson is interested in something other than liberty. Perhaps he’s into something progressive like the petty bourgeois Rousseau was. “Progressive” is a word like “Puritan.” Puritan sounds nice. But what Puritan means — Calvinist — is not. Progressive sounds nice. But what progressive means — socialist — is not. “Socialist Insurance Company?” Do what? “Comrade, do you really want to file a claim against the People? No? I thought not. And while you’re here, would you like to pre-pay next year’s premium?” Rousseau preached universal freedom — by which he meant mandatory unanimity. Perhaps Wilson, scion of Presbyterian preachers, wrote sermons for the pulpit of Princeton worth analyzing in the light of the 20th century’s darkness.
However, since I lack the context of Wilson’s remarks, I can’t determine or even surmise Wilson’s particular intentions. At the least, Wilson could mean one of three things. First, his remarks could be analytically neutral in the way of a disinterested scholar who’s saying that no real choice exists in the post-aristocratic 20th century. Two, he could be exposing the conjunction of democracy and socialism as a cunningly reprehensible subversion of liberty. Or, three, he could be dialectically celebrating the sneaky deceit of socialism which fatuously fools the West into thinking democracy is the opposite of socialism.
Regardless of his intent, I find Prof. Wilson’s observations to be striking and illuminating. Or is it Rev. Wilson discovering the catechism of his inaccessible heart? Rev. Wilson and the Church of Humanity, Equal? Regardless, Wilson’s strategic ambitions for humanity remain a separate matter. But if I must guess what his motivation is, I rather suspect it’s the third. Thus my ominous regard for Wilson as the dark player in the conceptual shadow depths of the Republic’s idea.
Briefly consider Wilson’s equation: democracy is socialism. Socialism can be identified as democracy with economics. And democracy today means social justice. Therefore Wilson is right. Democracy and socialism are the same now. For whereas Athenian democracy was only political, democracy today is total. Socialism and democracy are two names for twins.
And notice how, in its component words, “social justice” is an unobjectionable phrase. It means that people should socially get what they socially deserve. For example, some people deserve love, fame, and wealth, and others deserve arrest, trial, and jail. But like most idiomatic phrases, the sum of the words isn’t the meaning of the phrase. What is meant by “social justice” is a punitive expropriation of rich, advantaged, and successful people — “their success is proof of exploitation!” – and the distribution of these social spoils to those who lack them. “Not having is proof of deservedness!” And to say otherwise means a trip to Siberia. Siberia is a place that exists in every society. Ovid was sent to Siberia by Augustus, Tzar of all the Romans.
I’m presently getting to work on Wilson. So I’ll let you know what I conclude about the motivation behind his thoughts — or his ideology should he lack ideas. That assumes, of course, that records of his intentions are available. I’ve read complex historical studies of how Wilson went from a contempt for the European War — ‘one can be too proud to fight’ — to mobilizing millions for a continental invasion in a mass operation contrary to all past American policy and experience. The source of the decision o go to Congress in the spring of 1917 was an interiority. Go figure if you can. Meanwhile, what Wilson accomplished was a trial run for WWII in the way Dieppe was practice for D-Day. The muddles, the mistakes, and the blunders of both were studied and amended. At Normandy the Allies arrived, they conquered, they stayed. In WWII America did the same thing with Breton Woods in their backpacks. (Achtung! In a previous post I wrote “Dumbarton Oaks” for “Breton Woods.” Well, at least I got the habitat type right — and the magnitude. Was there some kind of “forest code” going on back then?)
And now onto your latest if abbreviated post.
I’m delighted that you posted on time despite the break in internet service that occurred between your family’s old residence and the new. The technological route you crafted need not distract us here. What’s important is the personal route you made: you strove with fortitude until you’d found a solution against the expectations of failure. Failure is so much easier, especially if it’s called victimization. And notice that the phrase “social justice” doesn’t democratically conceptualize such personal entrepreneurial motivation and soul self-direction. But I salute it. I especially enjoy the image of you crafting the post on your phone with your thumbs! I type with two fingers in the old journalistic way. My secretary even thinks I should wear a fedora! But to type with two thumbs — that would be to be all thumbs, huh?
In your post, you reflect upon our joint efforts with information and analysis that have brought Obama and Trump together in an American centrist combine of nationalism and war. And yet you then conclude that, even were Obama and Trump to have identical policies, you still couldn’t tolerate Trump. You can’t stand the man! Well, fine. I felt the same way about Reagan in his early years of office. My pressing concerns then were philosophy and food: thinking ways to find the universe, and finding ways to get fed.
I now like to think that, even then, I knew I was personally reacting to Reagan’s personality and rhetoric, and not his policies and procedures. After all, I’d studied Marxism at the graduate level, and I was a subscriber for years to a non-sectarian socialist newspaper. “Critique, comrades, critique! Personality is bourgeois!” Why I read such a publication — it was “In These Times” — perhaps should be disclosed here. I read it not for the content of its political affiliations — “I am not now nor have I ever been!” — but for its level of analysis. In contrast to that little weekly paper, the big mainline media provided no analysis, just assertions. The media just presented the “news” with various levels of complexity — or entanglement. There’s nothing old in that, huh! “In These Times” was especially good on international affairs via its Paris correspondent, Diana Johnstone. Her country by country analyses of European political and cultural reactions to Reagan’s intermediate missiles were eventually written up as a book, The Politics of Euromissiles.
Now I’ll say this about your political situation as well as any similar situations I find myself in. You favor many of Trump’s policies, but never Trump. I’m reminded of my favorite film version of The Three Musketeers. In this case, the Three and Four Musketeers. This pair of films was made in the early ’70s with a stellar cast of character-expressive players, and two scripts delightfully rich in drolleries. In the first film, a conversation occurs between Cardinal Richelieu, played by Charlton Heston, and Milady de Winter, played by Faye Dunaway. Milady seeks carte blanche from the Cardinal so she may wreak mortal vengeance on the person of d’Artagnan legally. D’Artagnan has displeased Milady’s amour-propre. Richelieu says, ‘Phew! I can’t afford the luxury of vengeance. I’m running a state!’ And Milady replies, ‘You are a great player, my lord. But I want my vengeance. I’ll trade you Buckingham for d’Artagnan.” Richelieu is unmoved. “For France,” Milady adds, pronouncing France, “Frahhhntzzz!” The argument is clinched. Richelieu may be a Catholic and a cardinal, but his popery is no potpourri. He’s still a Frenchman, and as a man his passion is grand. Of course Milady is now properly excited and loses her head.
I play at great things. Whether I play greatly I need not say. My actions are my speech. Others may provide such words as they see fit. Measure me to your height! Meanwhile, I act in accord with Richelieu’s self-observation. I’m running a world view. I can’t afford the luxury of being offended by personalities — not even God’s — when their ideas are world relevant. And when they aren’t, I don’t have the luxury of being bothered by their persons, multiple, mediocre, or magnificent. I just avoid them. It saves the effort of raging at their images which I myself would have allowed to occupy my mind. You’ll notice that I secure my mind — my mind, heart, and soul — with the same barrier I favor on the southern border. I don’t let in what I’d then chase around and apprehend, bullying and blathering while being bitched at and bothered because of my own capacity inanity. Contrast is a part of consciousness, but I don’t need misery to be happy. I leave angst joy to New York artists and Parisian being-masturbators. I mean ontoonanists for the metaphysically squeamish!
Clearly you’re offended by Trump’s mannerisms and affectations. And I am not. Do you know why? I ignore them. No, I don’t even do that. True, I did ignore Reagan. And my best friend then had a dart board with Reagan’s face tacked on it. I didn’t inform my friend what that said of him. Yes, I ignored Reagan. My consciousness was green with ephemera and the irritations of growth back then. Since then, my mind has ripened. So I don’t ignore Trump, not as an historical person, not even as a presidential personality. I don’t exert that much negative mental energy or emotional disengagement in his direction. I don’t see him — literally. As you know, I haven’t watched TV for decades. I don’t have cable or satellite service of any kind. Nor do I seek out any hand-held substitutes. My phones are all land-line. And the phone in the basement, to the delight of my son, has a rotary dial.
As I see it, Trump was hired to do some work. It’s the work I’m interested in. His personality isn’t a piece of the work. So I disregard it. No, again not even that. I just don’t regard it.
Therefore I find myself continuing to contemplate a curiosity. You express great concern for the power restoration of America’s sovereign governments — the states and their localities — along with a reduction of a fat national government whose blotation would become central and everything. Nothing would be done until the fat lady sang. You also support domestic business interests over economic internationalism for the benefit of American well-being. But Democrats systemically favor precisely the policies you’re opposed to: a bloated ever-growing centralist government — along with their permanent employment with lifetime pensions, and corporate globalization — of which they profitably own a piece of the action. And yet you politically support the Democrats while excoriating Trump who vocally sides with your foremost American interests! This must be a dilemma for you, or even a political tension with tendencies to conceptual schizophrenia. It certainly is for me just to see it.
Of course, in a public figure, the personality might interfere with the performance of the work. That would concern me.
Furthermore, the personality might interfere with the work itself. In this case, that’s the representation of the nation as a dignified entity. That assumes, of course, that America is dignified, and that dignity is republican. In my last post, I referred to this role via Princess Diana. Or should I say ex-Princess Diana? The Queen deaccessioned her from the throne. Queens can do such things with princesses, especially when the princess is an upstart daughter in law. It’s just like in the fairy tales. But in reality the mother in law wins! And notice how in modern fairy tales the victory of the children is symptomatic of post-Napoleonic social democratic decay.
Here’s a question concerning Trump I’ve often thought about. Or, rather, the question has often drifted through my mind, and I’ve acknowledged it without chasing after it. Should a president — any president — tweet the people? Should the president communicate directly with citizens en masse? After all, they didn’t directly elect him! Democrats can tell you that.
Since I don’t closely follow such chaff — I mean both agricultural and military chaff — I asked my son what he thinks about Trump’s tweets.
“Savage!!!” was his adamant instantaneous response.
I suspect there’s more salient insight there than any professor’s position paper could provide for a think tank or a scholarly journal — while being blessedly briefer, too. There’s something primal-tribal about Trump. “Me alpha male, you like?” During the campaign, wasn’t Trump comparing his wife — he has just one, right? — with another candidate’s? “Hey, look at my wife! I paid Chief Wampum Stompem top dollar for his number one daughter. Check her out! You got your wife at Payless!”
Meanwhile, this just in from France. Trump turned to the President’s wife on the Champs and said, ‘Hey, you’re in good shape!’ Later there was a brief international frisson at the airport when they couldn’t find Trump’s musket and coon skin cap.
Naturally, as a man of the ages, I find this all rather a bit demotic. But I’m confident that if a Democratic president had been the first to tweet, such twittering would have been acclaimed and celebrated. It’d be called “the direct authenticity of a personal political engagement between a free people and their democratic leader.” Chirp-chirp-hooray! Not only that. It would have been heralded as way cool, too. Besides, FDR tweeted in the technology of the times. He warbled in fireside chats. Therefore, I disregard Trump’s tweets as a part of his public persona. At the same time, they’re a great irritation to the liberal media — which is almost a pleonasm these days. Therefore, there’s policy in it. After all, if the media have created a monopoly of content — and Democrats hate monopolies, right? — then Trump is the trust buster of the One, True, and Only jealous Truth. Tweet that!
As you’re a devotee of military history — as I recall, you can hold your own after class on the transmissions of Mark VI Tiger II “King Tiger” tanks — you’ll enjoy a comparison of Trump with Patton and Montgomery.
Patton was a polo aristocrat — polo, not polio aristocrat — who had a squeaky voice. Polo, not polio. Patton would swear a blue streak in his rally speeches to the troops to establish his demotic credentials with the somewhat less aristocratic GIs. I understand. It’s hard to be a squeaky warrior. And Patton had other undemotic behavior issues besides cussin’ in public. But Patton, like Grant, fought. The other generals — I don’t mean Fredendall, but the ones who lasted — were fine and even excellent corps, army, and army group managers. They could have run divisions of corporations and even the corporations themselves. Indeed, some of them — like Mark Clark — did. Meanwhile, Patton like Grant was suffered as a personality, and he won.
Montgomery is even more illustrative of Trump in this way. The Americans couldn’t stand him. He was Montgomery and he was British. But even the Brits couldn’t stand him. He was still Montgomery! Montgomery was a hubristic prig. Not even the Greeks could have made a tragedy of him. The gods would have squashed him in the first act. But Montgomery could win. Obviously he wasn’t unique in that. O’Connor could win, too. That is, until Churchill screwed up North Africa for his screw-up in Greece followed by his screw-up in Crete. But Montgomery could tell Churchill to hold his horses until he, Montgomery, was ready. And then he, Montgomery, would finally fight his — Montgomery’s — much-delayed long-awaited over-prepared over-armed set piece battles. That’s how Patton crossed the Rhine before Montgomery did. Why did Montgomery fight like a school master with prepared lessons or a bishop with potted sermons? To make sure he won, of course. And to minimize British casualties. England was almost fought out half way through the war. Remember France in 1917? I’m not suggesting the English or the Empire would have mutinied, but they were on the verge of a permanent slow down. Montgomery induced the troops to fight to the end. He even saved Denmark from Soviet occupation. Nor do I exaggerate this political problem that Montgomery solved, not even compared to the French situation in WWI. Even before the war was successfully over, the English troops and the home forces fired Churchill, and then proceeded to sack the British economy with a labor party nationalization fest. Not even the troops and civilians of France accomplished that in 1917, the Great Red Year. Meanwhile, such a thing has already happened in America. Rhode Island was fiscally sacked by democratic debtors when it was a colony.
And so if Trump bothers you as a person, consider the patience of Marshall and Eisenhower with Patton, and Churchill and Brooke with Montgomery. And by patience I don’t mean charitable forbearance. I mean power calculation with remorseless love.
After all, at the beginning of the primary campaign season, I knew there was a guy named Trump who was a blowhard billionaire in New York who had a board game named after him and who hired and fired people on some TV game show called “Promotion or Starve!” or something like that. Like Rockefeller, Trump was the poster boy billionaire of the times. If I believed in conspiracy or, more likely, choreography theory, Trump’s public persona would be the result of calculated policy. Most billionaires are pleased to remain unknown to the general public. They go about their busy billionaire lives without the bothers of popular fame. Meanwhile, the public knows the billionaires are out there somewhere. So a token billionaire is chosen for acclaim and excoriation. A scapegoat for wealth. But unlike Rockefeller, Trump seemed to enjoy the jocularity of the asinine job.
Now, to conclude this cavalcade of considerations, I want to glance at a contemporary heart murmur in the news: Baby Charlie Gard. I don’t know if you’ve followed that medical saga. Certainly when I was in college, such topics were of no concern to me. But I’ll be referring to the case in the fall in my medical ethics course.
The following is a summary I’ve put together from various non-scholarly sources. I should very much like to see a professional analysis of the legal issues, both British and European, explored and explained.
Charlie is an infant in England, approximately six months old, who is severely defective. He was born with a rare cellular condition which has left him blind, deaf, epileptic, incapable of autonomous respiration, and, to some — disputed — extent, seriously brain-damaged. The state wishes to terminate his life support and thereby, without intent, his life. The parents have fought this public passive termination through the British courts all the way to the European High Court, an institution to which England is still beholden given Brexit’s two-year incubation period. The parents wish either to take Charlie home to die in domesticity, or to America to be treated with an expensive experimental treatment with some marginal rate of minimal recovery. England wants Charlie to expire in hospital.
Do you see the amazing array of political philosophical issues that arise in this case?
The best interests of Charlie must be considered. “Best interests” is the contemporary democratic standard always ethically employed, at least in words. But who is to be the ward of Charlie who will speak on his behalf for interests he can neither express nor even imagine?
Both the British and the EU courts (hence “the state” until further notice) have found that additional treatment would cause Charlie much pain and little compensation. Pain is the negation replacement for hellfire discomfort in today’s post-pain society. The woe of pain — “It hurts! Oh woe if life!” — is handily threated whenever an advantage over the strength of punishment, warfare and the mastery of animals is sought.
Apparently the state has not cited any concern with the cost of the continued treatment of Charlie let alone the cost of his permanent intensive care maintenance. I find the public absence of that calculation implausible though politically astute. “Human life is priceless” is the current distraction mantra in the secular socialist state where “priceless” is a bald substitute for “sacred.”
Meanwhile, I’ve read no mention of objections to the waste of professional effort and institutional emotion on a near-life human whose prospects of creature comforts and world signification are too low for even the rude scoff of derisory dismissal. Charlie’s prospects are less than pathetic. They’re absurd. Such nature abominations can engender disgust with the universe without compensation in even the best human intentionality.
Likewise I’ve read no reference to our contemporary post-eternity technology problem that renders mortal life a matter of human discretion. In the past, Charlie would have died soon after birth. “It is God’s will. God acts in strange ways. We are guilty. Let us build a chapel. There we will have a hundred Masses said.” Now the technology exists to keep human hulks and even warm cadavers “alive” for decades. In politics, “might is right” is a much scorned mantra. But in modern medicine, “technology is virtue” flourishes, especially in America.
I wonder if the insistence on Charlie dying in hospital — as the English phrase it without the “the” —represents a technical legal turn of British national health care system. Or is it just a petulant piece of bureaucratic territorialism? Such acquire-and-mark expansiveness is one of the meanest dominions in humanity. It’s motivated by great ambition married to mediocre originality.
If Charlie is allowed to be treated in America and there, with effusive internet funding, be sustained with even meager improvement and world celebration as opposed to quietly expiring and going off cost, is the state concerned that Charlie will return to England to be a gainless burden on Britain for years and even decades? After all, they’d not be emigrating. They’ll still be English subjects.
Finally, if the state can so dominate Charlie that his parents lack even the right to remove him to their home there to die in domestic surroundings, does that mean the state — now England — is the absolute warden of Charlie? Is the state the de facto owner of Charlie? England, home of the Industrial Revolution and John Locke? Has the state acquired such a Wilsonian totality that it owns the power of life and death over citizens in non-criminal situations? Is there then no sovereign privacy in England except that the state grants it on the occasions of its pleasure?
It’s interesting to contrast this state situation with my view of the sovereign family in The Republic. (Ch. 27 and 28.) And imagine if my sovereign insight, like Brandeis’s idea of a right to be let alone, got read in the courts like Brandeis’s did. Then Americans, in the situation of Charlie’s parents, could sue the sovereign state for possession of Charlie under the constitutional powers of the sovereign family.
Meanwhile, here’s what Charlie’s parents can do in the furtherance of liberty. We’ll call it the Wilson-Jacques sovereignty test. Let Charlie’s parents, for whatever good reason, try to remove Charlie from the hospital.
Then see if the parents are charged with kidnapping!