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Posts Tagged ‘left wing’

banjopicker as questing romantic

And regarding William F. Buckley’s fake apologies for 1950’s racism, why do we want people to apologize? Apologies, when made on demand, are always slippery. Buckley, unlike his followers, never really cast his slippery comments as an apology anyway.

Here’s a defensive, self-admiring, blame-shifting discourse from Pete Seeger, whom I likened to Buckley in that Boston Review essay. Seeger starts off with a fake apology for his former Stalinism (it’s from his book Where Have All the Flowers Gone):

… I’ll apologize for a number of things, such as thinking that Stalin was simply a “hard driver” and not a supremely cruel misleader. I guess anyone who calls himself a Christian should be prepared to apologize for the Inquisition, the burning of heretics by Protestants, the slaughter of Jews and Moslems by Crusaders. White people in the U.S.A. could apologize for stealing land from Native Americans and enslaving blacks. Europeans could apologize for worldwide conquests, Mongolians for Genghis Kahn. And supporters of Roosevelt could apologize for his support of Somoza, of Southern white Democrats, of Franco Spain, for putting Japanese-Americans in concentration camps. Who should my granddaughter Moraya apologize to? She’s part African, part European, part Chinese, part Japanese, part Native American.

Let’s look ahead.

To which Buckley, raising both eyebrows and flashing a shit-eating grin, might purr: “Ah. So you don’t apologize…”

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Yes, reading. Might help with attempting coherence, distinguishing between a grievance and a demand, stuff like that. Call me a patronizing elitist — you won’t get any argument from me! — but in a world where sincerity is equated with the inarticulate and cogency is supposedly only a telltale sign of privilege and hierarchy, these readings show that sounding authoritative does not equal selling out to authority.

The Putney Debates. 1647. Rank and file in Cromwell’s Army believed they deserved the vote. Cromwell disagreed. The “Levellers” lost — but this is one of the first articulate demands for disconnecting rights from property.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail. 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr., argues for the validity of taking direct action in the street, not just waiting for courts to catch up.

The Port Huron Statement. 1962. In a time not of recession but of immense prosperity, students who had benefited from that very prosperity questioned its basis and demanded a renewal of American political values, at home and around the world. Prescient or self-fulfilling or both? Anyway, at once passionate and crystal clear.

The Populist Party Platform. 1892. “We meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench. The people are demoralized; most of the States have been compelled to isolate the voters at the polling places to prevent universal intimidation and bribery. The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced, business prostrated, homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists.”

Common Sense. 1776. Paine’s call not only for American independence but also, and more importantly — and this is the part routinely and deliberately ignored or marginalized by liberal “consensus” historians — for social equality, in a new kind of American republic.

That’s a start. . . .

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kumbaya?

Woody Guthrie famously had a sign on his guitar reading “This Machine Kills Fascists.” The slogan neatly sums up the philosophy of the ’30’s and ’40’s American left when it comes to the relationship between folk art and progressive politics. Leaving aside, just for the moment, the support that Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and others in the folk left gave, at the behest of the American Communist Party, to the mass-murdering Stalin (and thus by extension, during the Hitler-Stalin pact, to Hitler too), their idea was that the anonymously composed, anti-commercial music of the people had the power to shake the foundations of capitalist and totalitarian hegemony.

With the labor protests in Wisconsin, I’m getting whiffs of nostalgia out there online for the agit-prop, pro-union, topical singing and songwriting of people like Guthrie, Seeger, the Almanac Singers, etc. There are some big issues here. To me, Guthrie was a kind of highly problematic genius; I love many things about his music — I got into some of the key questions in the Times a few years back. To read more about my dim view of Seeger’s music, and about how liberaloid culture has falsified history to construct Seeger as an icon, you can check out my essay on the legacies of Seeger and William F. Buckley, Jr., at Boston Review.

But anyway, regardless of how anyone feels about any of the old-left folkies’ music, Woody was just plain wrong about guitars and fascists.

Who has ever loved folk music more than fascists? Henry Ford was one such — and the same PBS-certified idea of culture that makes Seeger a saint always leaves out complications like Ford’s key contributions to folk revival in America. Radovan Karadzic has been my favorite example for years: that horrifying monster not only likes folk music, he plays it, on the traditional stringed instrument known as the gusle.

That’s not like Hitler enjoying puppy dogs, say. Kardazic’s immersion in traditional music isn’t a creepy irony. It’s part and parcel of his fascistic vision.

Which is what romantics don’t get about folk music and the oral tradition: they want it to be all about communality, sharing, and love. A real folk tradition can keep alive, generation after generation, often in secrecy, the deepest kind of violent hatreds. A roomful of people unified in song: sometimes it’s Seeger leading a bunch of nice people in L.L. Bean sweaters in “Guantanamera”; sometimes it’s a beer-hall putsch. The music doesn’t care. Anyone who wishes America’s folk had stayed more pure might want to consider that during shelling of Sarajevo, every Serb battalion had its own bard.

Rock on, Woody. But America’s best music, folk or commercial or both, has never been about union.

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Responding here to a bunch of comments posted during recent months, since I don’t like burying and scattering the discussion:

Elites versus the crowd. Working backward and starting with lacithedog’s comment on my “New Deal 2.0″ post. Laciethedog is reading Declaration and comments further on the “New Deal” post here. I appreciate the interest and support. And I have a concern about the idea that the founding fathers “incited the masses” and then found “the mob” hard to control. In both Declaration and that “New Deal” post, I do discuss tensions — indeed, outright enmity, at times — between the adherents of populist democracy and the adherents of republican liberty who banded together to defeat reconciliation with England in 1776. But I think I also show that I see the alliance as a matter of mutual manipulation, with ordinary people possessing plenty of initiative, intelligence, and what the historians call “agency,” and not of a mindless mob being incited and then imperfectly controlled by elites. Not sure if laciethedog is thinking of it quite that way, but the terminology gives me pause.

War on Christmas. Laciethedog also comments on my “war on Christmas” post. Point taken. Can’t agree that anything would have made either Adams literally a Tory — but even without a time machine, John Adams’s “Good God!” on reading the radically democratic PA Constitution of 1776 (and his predicting that PA would soon want George III back), and Samuel’s calling for the death penalty for the so-called Shays rebels, made many at the time think the Adamses and others had reverted to a kind of Tory authoritarianism. Neither Samuel’s nor John’s disgust with the populism they’d collaborated with in 1776 represents a reversion, however — which is really the well-taken point of laciethedog’s comment. While they differed in influences, emphases, and personal styles, both Adamses remained pretty consistent in their elite Whig republicanism throughout the period. Whigs were not democrats.

Socialist Pilgrims. Michael Pichowsky makes a thought-provoking comment regarding my post on the “Socialist Pilgrim” flap. But even given all of Pichowsky’s nuanced understanding of the Calvinist-socialist problem, I’m still unconvinced that it’s fair to see the very specific Plymouth experience as revealing some big truth about the virtues of free markets versus a centrally planned economy. Bradford does seem to have been reading the lesson pretty much that way, though.

Inalienable rights and God. My Constitution posts are leading me toward an article that would qualify as something other than a post, more like what I call a “work” in this post — whether I end up publishing it here, on another blog, or in a magazine. Interesting comments in this regard included Martin’s, of What Would the Founders Think?. Martin raises the issue of where the in- or un-alienable rights come from and says that Glenn Beck gets it right: from God. Liberal readers may be surprised to hear me say that, in this context, I agree: (more…)

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George Whitefield Preaching

[UPDATE: I always feel a need to note, when we talk about the upscale founders being Christian, the degree to which so many of them were reflexively, traditionally, and virulently anti-Catholic, a feeling shared in most cases by the evangelical working-class left discussed below ...]

Smart post from Jonathan Rowe at American Creation (whence the picture of Whitefield preaching) on nuances in the historiography of the question “Were the founders Deists or Christians?” It’s a hot political one. With George Washington getting constructed by the religious right as a fervent born-again evangelical, and secularists hoping against hope that none of the famous American founders would believe in anything they couldn’t repeat under laboratory conditions, Rowe’s thinking is helpful. He says in part: 

I’ve concluded that the “key Founders” — the FFs on American currency — if pushed would have considered themselves “Christians” not “Deists.” Though they may have endorsed an understanding of Deism that didn’t view itself as incompatible with “Christianity.” Yet many in the academy endorse the line “the FFs were Deists not Christians.” . . . The standard line from “Christian America” is the FFs were virtually all “Christians” and the bad, secularist revisionists “stole” that heritage, knowingly and duplicitously. That narrative, of course, is as phony as “the Founders were all Deists” narrative. 

Rowe tells what really happened: the rational, liberal Christianity that most of the famous founders would probably have signed on to was condemned by evangelical [UPDATE: Probably less evangelical than just old-light orthodox?] clergy of the day as no better than Deism. (Maybe because it wasn’t? I suggest. But that’s another story.) Thus was the founders’ Christianity branded a closet Deism by more fervent [UPDATE: orthodox?] peers. “That kind of irony,” says Rowe, “I dig.” Me too. 

I have a feeling most of the founders would privately have shrugged. They professed a rationalist Christianity, which had some natural connections, at least, with Deism; they were skeptics about “literal truth”; and they may not have cared what the clergy thought about any of it. I don’t get the feeling most of them lost sleep over this stuff. 

What’s most interesting to me, which might interest Rowe too (I don’t know his work all that well yet) is that pace the secularist liberals, there were fervent Christian enthusiasts present and significant at the founding — they’re just not to be found (pace the Christian right) among the famous founders, who even if they were professed Christians, professed a Christianity that many on today’s evangelical right too would condemn (possibly wisely) as no better than secularism.  (more…)

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(Part One is here. )

From a modest but notable spike in page views for my first entry in this category, I get the feeling these lists might have some actual value. I’ll interlink them as I go. (The “Tory History” list, coming soon, will be briefer and might be interesting too. Others may follow after that.)

As a reminder: The biggest category at play here is “works of serious academic scholarship — by trained historians, that is — that have had an impact on the stories I tell in Declaration and The Whiskey Rebellion.” In those books, I try to base genuinely page-turning, character-driven narrative on the conflicts exposed by genuine critical  history. I don’t see many other people really going for that, so my lists are uncomprehensive, personal to my work.

Some works I cite are good reading and some just aren’t. I’ll try to annotate that as I go, but I don’t know the tolerance levels of any particular reader in this area, so wouldn’t want to try to be definitive on “readability.” Many books people find highly readable (those by a certain late Swedish crime novelist, e.g.) I find unreadably banal and inept, so who knows.

I invite comment on these lists, which might even lead to dialogue among teachers, students, readers, etc.? — And if so inclined, push elsewhere to those who might be interested.

As to this particular post: It continues the sub-category, “left history”– real left history, Marxist by extraction, not the lefty-liberalism defined as “far left” by right-wing talkshow hosts. … (more…)

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Here’s a list of some of the writers whose work has been invaluable to my understanding of the founding period. They’re on the left — not New York Times “media bias left” as defined by the right. These writers are actually informed by Marxism. [UPDATE: I promise an invaluable Tory-history reading list next.] [UPDATE: But first, Left History, Part Two.] I leave it to you to sort out where you think each of them falls along the left — also to search for them, if you get interested, since (in most cases) they’re easy to find. I should note that some true left history I’d already known, but some I learned about through correspondence with Wythe Holt, a left law professor and historian, who wrote a very probing work on the Whiskey Rebellion (I found it too late to use it very much in my book on that topic, but I did correct a few things for the paperback).

(more…)

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