YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

July 16, 2011

Disraeli’s contribution to social democracy

One of the chief tactics of populists and progressives is to depict themselves as persons of the “grass roots”; as spokesmen for the common man and woman against “the money power.”

And [hook-nosed] moneybags are held by the populist-progressives to control all information in the society, with the exception of underground messaging and alternative media. The internet has only facilitated such carelessness and populists can be found on both the right and the left of the political spectrum. I have found them to be haters and uninterested in the histories they claim to depict with accuracy, deluded into the belief that they are correcting the “propaganda” generated by serious students of the past. There is money in it, as the book sales figures or viewers of some “traditionalist” conservative stars can attest. This blog seeks to correct a common misconception I have found in the ranks of some who deem themselves conservatives: that Rousseau* generated the Jacobins, and that a straight line can be drawn between the furious mob behavior in the Reign of Terror and the Democratic or even moderate Republican (“RINO”) opposition.  And the enemy is “secularism, ” redefined to signify atheism, a.k.a., worship of the Goddess of Reason, rather than religious pluralism and the separation of church and state.

As everything on this website will attest, populism and progressivism did not spring, fully-formed, from the industrial working class, or small farmers, or any other sector of the population de-skilled or otherwise harmed by the industrial revolution and the concentration of ownership in corporations. Rather, its ideology was largely cooked up by those European intellectuals who identified with a threatened aristocracy, and who wrote copiously in order to persuade a frivolous and conspicuously consuming class of lords and ladies, princes and kings, that they had better unite with The People against the “laissez-faire” industrial bourgeoisie that was the chief cause of lower-class suffering with the advent of science, the machine age, utilitarianism, railroads, the Higher Criticism of the Bible, and of course, Darwinism.

With a renewed devotion to “religion” (now seen as instrument of social control for all classes) the aristocracy would mend its ways, reverting to the gentle paternalism that was believed to have existed in the Middle Ages, and the new education-hungry working-class would settle for those reforms that did not threaten the social order as it had existed before mad scientists and engineers made the scene. The lower orders would be treated to lots and lots of spectacles and costume parties.

Benjamin Disraeli, a prolific author before he entered the British parliament, later to become Prime Minister and the Earl of Beaconsfield, wrote novels all his life, but the group of novels relevant to this posting was published in the mid-1840s, and meant to introduce “The New Generation” that would represent “Young England.”  Coningsby, Sybil, or the Two Nations, and Tancred, or the New Crusade,** were a trilogy intended to instruct Europe as to the chaos that was to be generated by the new industrial poor, whether they be slaves to the machine or miners–unless they were rescued by an enlightened and progressive aristocracy. Sybil, in particular, sounded the tocsin, and appeared the same year, 1845, as did Engels’ famous book on the condition of the working class in Manchester. Disraeli’s father, Isaac D’Israeli, never renounced Judaism, but did baptize all his children into the Church of England, home of the Elizabethan Compromise.

What Disraeli accomplished was to provide the moderate conservative alternative to the red specter that was haunting Europe. The Good King would represent the People against all forces of dissolution, and all would be self-sacrificing as their model, Jesus Christ, had been. Without faith, there could be no sense of duty, and everyone was bound by duty and those rights that kept the peasantry prosperous, and the male working class not exhausted or forced to compete with female and child labor.

Sybil with book

Disraeli was hardly alone in his prescriptions for a measured progress, with his religious model apostolic Christianity and the “reverence” it embodied. He was writing in the tradition of Hume and Burke, of the German Romantics (including Herder and Goethe). His contemporaries, such as hero-worshipping Carlyle and the Christian Socialists, and later Bismarck, would echo the same tradition of conservative reform, staving off excess of every kind, whether it be upper-class selfishness (“individualism” or “puritanism”) or lower-class licentiousness and excessive interest in the heroism of some Old Testament figures (see Kingsley’s Alton Locke, a founding document of Christian Socialism, puported to be the confession of an ex-Chartist, now dying of consumption).

Populism is inconceivable without hero-worship and the obeisance to opinion leaders, stand-ins today for the Good King imagined by Disraeli. In the populist appeal to emotions (“compassion”) and false utopias, rather than to careful analysis of policy, the notion of a democratic republic is subverted beyond recognition, wherever it may be found, on the left or right. Class warfare, wielded cynically by some Democrats, works, for populists hate capitalism/the money power. That is “the way we live now.”

*See image from Columbia Today (Alumni Magazine responding to 1968 student strike): https://clarespark.com/2010/07/04/rousseau-amidst-primitive-columbia-student-strikers/.

** See cartoon and description of Tancred in Arab News: http://www.arabnewsblog.net/2011/05/11/tabsir-redux-tancred-or-the-new-crusade/. The blurb author misses the point of Disraeli’s trilogy: to relocate the fount of Christianity in Jerusalem rather than Rome. Disraeli seems to have reconciled his Judaic ancestors with Christianity by finding heroism, honor, and direct communication with the Deity in the Middle East. What this may hint about relations with his father is speculation on my part. He does mention “theocratic equality” in Tancred, which suggests that equality is defined in religious terms, not material ones (those of the working poor who rise in the class system are tamed through deference and self-control), and that an established religion is the major source of social solidarity.

With respect to his relations with Judaism, his move was simply to stress the Judaic origins of Christianity, thus knocking out the antithesis between Good Christian and Evil Jew and making Jerusalem and environs the cradle of civilization. I don’t know if he was the first to do this, but it was certainly an obsessive theme. In Tancred, he complains bitterly about antisemitism, and lets none of his characters off the hook. It is unfortunate that in the process, he cleaved to contemporary notions of race and national character.

It is also interesting that his orientalist hero, Tancred, Lord Montecute, is prevented at the last minute from marrying the gorgeous Jewess Eva. In the last sentence we discover that his parents have come to Jerusalem to get him away from all those too rich, brilliant, and irresistible  Jews. There is also a hint that momma’s puritanism may have driven Tancred to excessive religiosity and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem/Syria, where any sensitive, shy fellow would have gone off the deep end, faced with all that glamor. As for Sidonia, a character sometimes identified with a Rothschild or even with Disraeli himself, Sidonia is wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, and the model man of the world, brilliant and a linguist, but he lacks a heart: Sidonia is incapable of emotional attachments–he is a rootless cosmopolitan, the very embodiment of THE MONEY POWER, as drawn by the would-be aristocratic anticapitalist, Benjamin Disraeli.

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July 4, 2009

Unfinished Revolutions and contested notions of “identity”

Professor Nicholas Boyle

[For a more recent blog on decadence see https://clarespark.com/2011/04/03/progressives-the-luxury-debate-and-decadence/.]

Anyone who has followed recent developments in history and politics should be amazed by the ubiquity of the term “identity”. What is not noted is the drastic transformation in the meaning of that word, and the implications are alarming for those who believe that civil rights (most especially the right of every individual citizen to challenge authority and to question the lines of interpretation handed down by all existing establishments as to “truth” or the causes of conflict) are intrinsic to an advanced democracy, such as the one we celebrate today, July 4, 2009. For as I have argued in all my published work and in various blogs and comments on the internet, the very concept of the free-standing, relatively autonomous individual is being systematically erased by antidemocrats or pseudo-democrats, who imagine themselves to be “anti-imperialists” and “anti-racists.” (I have written about the origins of multiculturalism and its racialist discourse in numerous venues, but here is one that tries to sum it all up: http://hnn.us/articles/4533, or see the version I posted here: https://clarespark.com/2009/12/12/switching-the-enlightenment-corporatist-liberalism-and-the-revision-of-american-history/, or try this more recent blog:https://clarespark.com/2014/09/03/solidarity-on-the-left-vs-disunity-on-the-right/.)

What do I mean by unfinished revolutions? While in graduate school in history, as I learned about “the Age of Revolution” it dawned on me that none of the great transformations from the feudal world to the modern one, mostly in “the West” had been resolved. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation were not simply about whether monarchs in Europe would adhere to Catholicism or Protestantism or Anglicanism (the “Elizabethan compromise”), but the key element–whether or not individual conscience trumped the authority of Churches and Kings–is still a hot topic today. Then came the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century, and the warfare between science and religion proceeds apace, often disguised in “the culture wars.” What is at stake here is the universality of observed facts, but the new identity politics relegates such an affront to authority as crypto-fascism or imperialism. For these supposed freedom fighters, there are only group facts, incomprehensible to those not sharing the same (group) identity.  Now recall that the further liberalizing American Revolution, grounded in both the scientific revolution and left-wing Protestantism, established the “levelling” notion of equality before the law, along with meritocracy, as its founding principles (at least for propertied white males).

Hard by that unprecedented blessed event came the French Revolution (inspired in part by the American Revolution)  and its continued transfer of authority to citizens: Power, knowledge, and virtue now fled castles and cathedrals to repose in the breasts and brains of ordinary people, and, affirming the liberties that had been asserted in the preceding upheavals, appeared a Declaration of the Rights of Man and the elevation of the Prometheus myth, even in the principalities of Germany, as early Goethe and Schiller can attest (and before that, Spinoza in the seventeenth century Netherlandish revolt against Spain).

Lest anyone think that the traditional elites took these events, disastrous to their property and privileges, lying down, one need only read the outpouring of conservative Catholic and other organic conservative denunciations of the bloodthirsty Jacobins and their hideous progeny, progeny that includes Stalin, Mao, and Hitler. For the purpose of this essay, their most significant gesture was the erasure of “rights” in favor of “obligation” or “duty” to the ‘revolution, or ‘race’ or ‘nation’ or ‘community.’ Similarly, the individual observer, testing reality with her or his senses, then submitting facts to open-minded and curious others for confirmation, was beheaded or deemed “vile atheist” and mad scientist. Now “identity”, understood in my youth as a coherent sense of self, a sense of self that was antithetical to the fragmented and dissociated sufferer from paranoia or other mental illnesses, that notion of self was drastically transformed into “identity” as “national character”: a set of perceptions shared by all of the inhabitants of a nation-state or “race” –a population that formed a “community” with a specific Zeitgeist. This latter notion came down to us as Lamarckianism or a kind of blood and soil “environmentalism.” The eighteenth-century German theologian J.G. von Herder, the founder of cultural anthropology, got the credit for his “rooted” cosmopolitanism, supposedly an improvement over the atomized, narcissistic, world-destroying individual allegedly promoted by the dread liberals who preceded him in the English, American, and French Enlightenments. (On the perils of the Age of Reason or Utilitarianism, see the interchanges between Coningsby and Sidonia in Benjamin Disraeli’s Coningsby.)

Not too long ago, I discovered that some of Herman Melville’s markings in one of his Bibles came straight out of Goethe’s two Wilhelm Meister novels (the first wild one, written before the French Revolution, the second “reverential” one, written late in life in reaction to the Terror and Napoleon), so I have been reading Goethe and Goethe biography and criticism. It turns out that one Nicholas Boyle, a most prestigious professor of German intellectual history and literature at Cambridge University in the U.K. had published two mammoth volumes on Goethe’s life and art, with a third volume promised. Boyle was so outraged by the French Revolution (an event that seems to have dampened the ardor of the Sturm und Drang German writers), that I suspected a conservative Catholic or Tory reading of that revolution. Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered that Boyle had denounced the unforgiving Captain Ahab in another of his books (quoted below), and also admonished Ishmael too for homosexuality! Melville had written a gay and blasphemous book! My notes from Boyle follow, and I have included them here because he gives us a clue as to the real content of “identity” today as understood by its multicultural advocates. As I have proposed above, we are still fighting for the most basic of human rights as promised in the Declaration of Independence.

[my notes:] Nicholas Boyle, “A Catholic Approach to Literature,” Secular and Sacred Scriptures: A Catholic Approach To Literature, 2004, p.140 [IDENTITY]: Boyle writes, “Both sacred and secular literature involve the noninstrumental, nonpurposive use of words, and in different ways assert our freedom from the tyranny of functional, goal-directed thought and language: secular literature by using words to give pleasure and so enabling us to enjoy what is: sacred literature by using words to utter obligation, and so to give us our identity, not as beings who perform a function, but as creatures who know what ought to be.” P.141: “Even the wisdom books of sacred literature are expressions, however refined and derived, of the original obligation. Even Ecclesiastes, in which first-person utterance and the appeal to the author’s experience are so prominent, enjoins us ‘Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth’ (12:1)”

In other chapters (e.g. on Moby-Dick): for Boyle, “having and risking” is modern (false) identity. In this chapter, Boyle deplores the transition starting in 1200 A.D.  from a “feudal” world ordained by God to one ruled by money ( capitalism and imperialism). Boyle asserts that we have forgotten that wealth has its origins in work; we have forgotten our origins in God. A capitalist identity is therefore antithetical to the true Christ-infused identity. Hence, Boyle rejects the very notion of a “feudal” world, for the true world is not characterized by such (utilitarian?) categories. So political theory or structural analysis of economic institutions are off the charts!!! But wait, artists are good: Christ redeemed sinful man, and therefore artists can represent the world, conditioned though they may be by historical and linguistic context (cf. the New Historicism!), but (he implies) their work should participate in the ongoing work of redemption (of suffering?), for we are all in Christ and Christ is in us.

How does Boyle deal with antisemitic representations in literature then?  In his Goethe biography he passes over without judgment Goethe’s several nasty comments about Jews. In the book quoted above, Boyle finds pleasure in Dickens’ Fagin, a monster-victim who is, however, forgiven: pp.133-34: “Fagin is saved from being a stereotypical instrument of anti-Semitism and is raised into literature by our enjoyment of his monstrosity, and that is made possible as much by Oliver’s final prayer for him—Oh! God forgive this wretched man!” (in which a direct vocative can be heard behind the gasp of sentiment)—as by the relish in the caricature when we first meet him, stirring the coffee in an iron pot and serving hot rolls and, of all things, ham to his ‘dears,’ while he inspects their pickings.”
Now, dear reader, if you have followed me thus far, you will understand that Captain Ahab’s unpardonable sin, for Boyle and for others who share his ideology, is Ahab’s/Melville’s (Jewish?) predilection for revenge. We may infer that Ahab doesn’t enjoy the Monster, or the idea that Might Makes Right, or that obligation sans “rights” is a source of pleasure. That Captain Ahab’s quest might be a symbol for all the unfinished revolutions of Melville’s time, revolutions that allowed a cat to look at a king, or ordinary people to educate themselves through study and reflection upon their experience, and who, moreover, might indulge themselves in the analysis of the institutions that controlled their lives, thence to participate meaningfully in government and self-government–such a reading cannot be allowed in an academy that called a halt to the Age of Revolution as it was once understood.  Happy Fourth of July. (For a recent blog on this  subject see https://clarespark.com/2013/01/24/culture-wars-and-the-secular-progressives/.)

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