YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

January 15, 2013

Golden Globes, Lincoln, Clinton, Hobsbawm

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 9:37 pm
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clinton-harlemTwo events stood out for me during the 2013 Golden Globes award show:

  1. First, Jodie Foster, recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award, defining her “self,” her “identity,” primarily as both a private person and a lesbian.  It made for surreal television.  If action creates essence, as Sartre argued, then sexual preference is the most significant action in our lives. Such are the fruits of single-issue politics. But Hollywood sells sex and violence, and many men are turned on by lesbian sex, so why should I be shocked?
  2. Second, the surprise visit of Bill Clinton, sometimes known as “America’s First Black President,” ahead of the award that he hoped would go to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Clinton not only stumped for Spielberg’s movie, he lauded the virtues of “compromise” (obviously lecturing Republicans who were and would be the butt of Sarah Palin jokes).   (See http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/moviesnow/la-et-mn-golden-globes-2013-bill-clinton-makes-surprise-stump-speech-lincoln-argo20130113,0,1854944.story.)

I have been rereading the British communist historian Eric Hobsbawm’s The Age of Revolution 1789-1848, (1962) partly because he makes much of the transition from feudalism to capitalism. His emphasis on social property relations at the expense of individual biography (except in the case of Napoleon, whose ambition and military genius changed Europe forever, bringing it out of stable, rooted, feudal, collectivism into the sad, bad, uprooted world of bourgeois  individualistic profiteering), was exactly how I was taught history in graduate school at UCLA.

Here is one example that illustrates Hobsbawm’s grand method. He is describing the economic relations that determined the American Civil War– no room for “compromise” here (nor for the women and men who comprised the moralistic abolition and antislavery movements, or the drastic political realignment that led to the Republican Party and its first Republican president, elected on a free soil platform):

[Hobsbawm, p.179:] Only one major obstacle stood in the way of the conversion of the USA into the world economic power which it was soon to become: the conflict between an industrial and farming north and a semi-colonial south. For while the North benefited from the capital, labour, and skills of Europe—and notably Britain—as an independent economy, the South, which imported few of these resources) was a typical dependent economy of Britain. Its very success in supplying the booming factories of Lancashire with almost all their cotton perpetuated its dependence, comparable to that which Australia was about to develop on wool, the Argentine on meat. The South was for free trade, which enabled it to sell to Britain and in return to buy cheap British goods; the North, almost from the beginning (1816), protected the home industrialist heavily against any foreigner—i.e. the British—who would then have undersold him. North and South competed for the territories of the West—the one for slave plantations and backward self-sufficient hill squatters, the other for mechanical reapers and mass slaughterhouses; and until the age of the trans-continental railroad the South, which controlled the Mississippi delta through which the Middle West found its chief outlet, held some strong economic cards. Not until the Civil War of 1861-65—which was in effect the unification of America by and under Northern capitalism—was the future of the American economy settled. [end Hobsbawm quote]

JodieFosterchild

Considering his gratuitous snipes at “backward…hill squatters,” “mechanical reapers” and “mass slaughterhouses”,  is there any doubt that Hobsbawm was more emotionally attuned to medieval collectivism and the peasantry, than to a modern world dominated by mass death, greed, and machines, notwithstanding his sometimes defense of the bourgeoisie as producers of the new industrial working class that would climb the mountain to socialism?  Does that same ambivalence characterize the business of Hollywood movies and television?

(Illustrated: a rural version of Jodie Foster, child actor]

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5 Comments »

  1. Thank you for that acknowledgement. Every time I try to talk to explain my views to people about about Lincoln and the Civil War, I am treated as badly as I would if I tried to defend Hitler.

    Comment by Bob Ennis — January 16, 2013 @ 6:02 pm | Reply

    • One should be careful about any book that engages a national figure. Some are meant to demolish them, others to glorify them. All presidents are creatures of their times and elicit propaganda in later periods. Very few writers are capable of balanced assessments; few use all the archival materials available.

      Comment by clarespark — January 16, 2013 @ 6:27 pm | Reply

  2. Hobsbawn’s description of why the Civil War was really fought (unification of the states under an industrialist northern capitalism) is precisely the same as I recently read in a book called “Lincoln Unmasked”. Unfortunately, because of the slavery issue, the real Lincoln has been obscured in favor of a corny myth.

    Comment by Bob Ennis — January 16, 2013 @ 12:28 am | Reply

    • And Richard Hofstadter in his The American Political Tradition, characterized Lincoln as an opportunist Northern capitalist, reduced to a lawyer for the railroads.

      Comment by clarespark — January 16, 2013 @ 12:33 am | Reply


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