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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Background Reading

UVA has an American Studies page with links to online texts. They are well worth your time.

You might find "Only Yesterday" by Frederick Lewis Allen especially interesting and timely; it's about the 1920's. Chapters 11 and 13 might remind us all of some realities about how quickly liquidity can dissipate.

In terms of today's politics, the writings of Emma Goldman are particularly apposite, especially her essay "Anarchism, What It Really Stands For". It is hard to understand the confluence of aims of today's hard right and today's hard left until you read some of the early documents.
Anarchism has declared war on the pernicious influences which have so far prevented the harmonious blending of individual and social instincts, the individual and society.
...
Religion, the dominion of the human mind; Property, the dominion of human needs; and Government, the dominion of human conduct, represent the stronghold of man's enslavement and all the horrors it entails.

Anarchism does not stand for military drill and uniformity; it does, however, stand for the spirit of revolt, in whatever form, against everything that hinders human growth. All Anarchists agree in that, as they also agree in their opposition to the political machinery as a means of bringing about the great social change.
...
...the true lovers of liberty will have no more to do with it. Instead, they believe with Stirner that man has as much liberty as he is willing to take. Anarchism therefore stands for direct action, the open defiance of, and resistance to, all laws and restrictions, economic, social, and moral.
...
Everything illegal necessitates integrity, self-reliance, and courage.
Yeah, that's why bombing and murder are so wonderful and liberating. Idealism that refuses to deal with reality always becomes murderous in the extreme.

You cannot truly understand Chesterton until you understand Emma Goldman. We live in a golden age of free access to knowledge, and you might as well profit from it. A page with many of Chesterton's works is here.

The first and most glaring contrast between a Goldman and a Chesterton (examples of the idealistically destructive and the idealistically constructive) is that the Goldmans are devastatingly devoid of humor, whereas the Chestertons exude it. See the first paragraph of Orthodoxy:
THE only possible excuse for this book is that it is an answer to a challenge. Even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel. When some time ago I published a series of hasty but sincere papers, under the name of "Heretics," several critics for whose intellect I have a warm respect (I may mention specially Mr. G. S. Street) said that it was all very well for me to tell everybody to affirm his cosmic theory, but that I had carefully avoided supporting my precepts with example. "I will begin to worry about my philosophy," said Mr. Street, "when Mr. Chesterton has given us his." It was perhaps an incautious suggestion to make to a person only too ready to write books upon the feeblest provocation. But after all, though Mr. Street has inspired and created this book, he need not read it. If he does read it, he will find that in its pages I have attempted in a vague and personal way, in a set of mental pictures rather than in a series of deductions, to state the philosophy in which I have come to believe. I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.

Comments:
The first and most glaring contrast between a Goldman and a Chesterton (examples of the idealistically destructive and the idealistically constructive) is that the Goldmans are devastatingly devoid of humor, whereas the Chestertons exude it.

Didn't Ayatollah Khomeini (founder of the current Iranian theocracy) say "There can be no laughter within Islam. There can be no smiling within Islam. There can only be Islam."?

"The Puritans banned bear-baiting, not because it caused the bear pain, but because it caused the spectators pleasure."
 
My father loved that quote about the Puritans, and used it often.

These strains of human-denying religion aren't a matter of doctrine, but of some deep human tendency. They seem to pop up all over.
 
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