Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bertonneau's latest at The Brussels Journal

Ideology and Literature: Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance (1852) and Dick’s VALIS (1981):
...The New Arcadians see themselves as a community of the morally pure, who must avoid contamination by the wicked external society. Culturally, if not politically, such a Puritanical vision of existence can fairly lay claim to being the founding vision of North American settlement, and probably more for worse than for better. One might hazard the hypothesis, indeed, that the social history of the United States consists in the regular recrudescence of an original Puritanism, which the rational politics of the Founding Fathers could never fully assimilate or suppress.
In Hollingsworth, Hawthorne has bodied forth the Satanic logic of puritanical doctrines, hence also of ideology, in simple. The existing radicalism always appears to someone among its late-arriving devotees as insufficiently radical; and its Puritanism appears as insufficiently pure.
Whenever the true believers gain power over others, as they sometimes do in cults and even in states, or when they establish themselves as the elites in a society, they act imperiously to suppress any articulation of the actual reality and they propagandize inveterately to impose their second reality. The term ideology refers to this simultaneous war on reality and campaign for unreality. Aware that ideology demands the surrender of common sense, of genuine subject-hood, and of one’s right to traffic in values and opinions as one sees fit, Dick has Fat sum up the nihilistic trend in the trope of the Black Iron Prison, whose other name is “Empire.” The Prison traps the individual in the system of lies, willingly adopted, that shields the frightened subject from the openness and unpredictability of existence. In the falsehood, not in reality, originates “entropy, undeserved suffering, chaos and death”; falsehood entails “the aborting of… proper growth and health.” In its character, falsehood is “deranged… tormented, humiliated” and its functions are “blind, mechanical, purposeless… processes.” Ideology is Ananke, dictatorial command, and its opposite principle is Logos, reason, openness, and love of truth for its own sake.
The Western Continuum exhibits a curious split, which Hawthorne and Dick have noted. From Plato, the Prophets, and the Gospel, it has inherited its acknowledgment of reality and aversion to ritual, coercion, and resentment. The market, which depends on truth as much as it depends on reciprocity, is an outgrowth of these things. This compounded “reality principle” seems to have inspired, from its beginning, an opposite “unreality principle” devoted to the cherishing, finally, of nothing, but rather to vilifying what its devotees see as the Trinity of Oppression – Philosophy, Judeo-Christian Ethics, and the Market. In the late Twentieth Century and in the incipient Twenty-First century, the characterless advocates of unreality have captured and perverted the institutions. They are now using the institutions to insist that we share their delusions.

Almost all Western governments now exhibit certain common, antinomian traits. They pontificate ceaselessly. They are averse to standing custom and local habit; they mistrust free transactions and lie in wait for opportunities to interfere in commerce and free trade. Judaism and Christianity irritate them and they seek to repress the symbols of those faiths while making common cause with dubious faiths hostile to Judaism and Christianity.


Dag said...

"...The New Arcadians see themselves as a community of the morally pure, who must avoid contamination by the wicked external society. Culturally, if not politically, such a Puritanical vision of existence can fairly lay claim to being the founding vision of North American settlement...."

That trend in current thinking is gaining ground rapidly in America among "conservatives," and it is merely more anti-Americanism from what I see of it. It's factually wrong, but that's not important to those who push the idea. The purist Right want only to condemn America, just like the utopianist, collectivist and puritan Left. Were the study fair, the founding of America would be seen as "Hawthorne."

Yes, small cliques of utopianists did come to America to build little Cities on the Hill and new Jerusalems; and they failed, over and over, as did Hawthorne's residence, New Harmony. To focus on these minor and marginal and ridiculous little communal efforts as the founding spirit of America leaves out the whole matrix in favor of dwelling on the flies stuck on the surface. Who fed the fools in the communes when they struggled to create their 50 or a hundred inhabitants? Consider that it would be the thousands of their neighbours who came to their aid, family by family and town and village by town and village, individuals who didn't just let the silly ones die of starvation. Once the working day was done, the individualists who came to America to make a real life then walked over to the communes and donated food to the starving socialists. how else do we figure the socialists survived? It was not by their own efforts. To think this is the founding ethos of America is not simply wrong, it's genuinely anti-American.

truepeers said...

And what if Bertonneau wishes for the same kind of America as you, but sees it as, historically, never able to overcome the Puritan streak (see, e.g., the current Messianic ascendancy): why does that make him "anti-American"?

If the history is to be debated seriously we are not going to simply dismiss the idea that America is founded in Puritanism by waving off a few "small cliques". Clearly, what Bertonneau is talking about is something for which the cliques are merely notable signs, something much more widespread that has been ascendant for at least most of the 20thC and the 21st. For example, the post-New Deal state, the post-WWII international "order" constructed by FDR's Gnostic embrace of some UN-mediated, expert-led, global security system, are American phenomena as much as your vision of the popular culture.

Let's say there are at least three important American foundings: New England, New Amsterdam, and Virginia. Well, none has entirely subsumed the others; but it should be clear which one has come to dominate the state institutions, starting, most importantly, with the education system. Which one gets most traction in criticizing the other two? And, again, we are not talking about a few backwoods communes: the high culture of Boston and hence much of America is rooted, it seems to me, in a Puritan form of Gnosticism. And, ultimately, no popular culture can consistently dominate the high culture, unless and until we revert back to pure tribalism.

Politically, I think we are stronger when we are not simply trying to defend some golden age, but attuned to all the forces in our history that have been attuned to reality against the many - and there have always been many - who resent reality and construct various fantastic ways to reform it. What is wrong with seeing America as a less-than-perfect place that will never be finished? Freedom and its corruption/erosion are always two sides of a coin.

truepeers said...

In other words, is California (the other subject of B's essay) a small Utopian clique?

Dag said...

America isn't just rocks, dirt and water: it's an idea. To suggest that some minority of utopians who lived in America and went against the entire point of the foundation of he nation are a American as others is to defy reality. Yes, they have citizenship, but they missed the point of America.

Change the foundational principles of America and we'll still have rocks, dirt and water; but it won't be America. It'll be something else.

America is the constant regeneration of the old America based on the foundations of Americanism as the Founding Fathers decided it in our Constitution and other works-- even in the works of Hawthorne. Hawthorne got it. That's what his book is about.

Who is the real American? Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde? One is a travesty of the other. One is real and one is a monster who needs suppression for the good order of the being. But we don't commit suicide because who have bad tempers. We live with it. To say Hyde is foundational and ignore or even emphasize the rest is to parody at best. It's anti-Americanism at work.

A far as the Golden Age, it is always the Golden Age, though not everyone partakes. Sometimes not even the majority.

truepeers said...

America: "an idea" (the alternative to which is not just "rocks and dirt", I'd say, but rather a fuller apprehension of human reality, and of a given population's particular history, and of an entire civilizational tradition, including its ability to apprehend the limits of any idea: freedom, strictly speaking, is not an idea).

"An idea": isn't this a sign that you too are recapitulating the (Platonic or Christian, i.e. neoPlatonic) city on a hill with some quest for the pure "idea"? Why should freedom begin with any idea, as opposed to a manifold *under-standing* of the world we are given? It is precisely when we think we have to be loyal to some fundamental idea, rather to an entire reality that our ideas only help us see, that we get into trouble of the kind Bertonneau describes. The Gnostic is the one who worships the idea as if it were the reality.

The argument that a dominant strain in American culture is Puritanical cannot be dismissed by brushing off "some minority of Utopians". What must be examined is how the mainstream of American culture thinks - are they completely different from the minority of Utopian extremists, or simply at a different, less unrealistic, point on some shared continuum/tendency? And this mainstream need not be considered purely realistic just because it is relatively free and economically successful in colonizing a continent. Our capacity to apprehend and defend a fuller reality is one we hold in degrees.

I'd put it this way: America is not an idea, but a particular articulation of, in the first place, Judeo-Christian civilization; and this civilization has always been riven by those who can patiently put up with the religion's most highly differentiated vision of a less-than-ideal world, where we are often trapped between evil and lesser evil, between 1) the need for one kind of violence to avoid a greater violence, in a world where peace can be a divine horizon but not always a satisfactory way to appease evil, and 2) those who need some guarantee of a purer world in the here and now, and of some intellectual key to building worldly institutions that are going to make it so, so that we don't have to choose between evil and evil, so that we don't have to choose reality. In every Jewish and Christian nation, the truly realistic - given the anthropological reality that the Biblical revelations can make visible - have always been a minority, it seems to me. That's not to say America is no different from the other nations; but it's also not to say it is the realization of some transcendent vision that overcomes our humanity. It has to live in the muck too. But of course many Americans deny this, because they are so sure they are different.

On the whole, America has been a relatively freer country, but not in every situation and not without also always carrying the passions which erode freedom.

To say Hyde is foundational and ignore or even emphasize the rest is to parody at best. It's anti-Americanism at work. - but it is you who says one is real and the other is not and hence in need of suppression (I agree that I, personally, need to suppress certain passions, but you almost sound as if you want to make it into a civilizational or government project, a city on a hill, which I would read as tending towards anti-freedom [in foreseeable circumstances, for I am not interested much in some ideal vision where we might all agree without differences as to the nature of reality and the evil we must suppress] and, in your way, not untypically American).

So, by the same token, why can't a hyper-Americanism also be seen as a form of anti-Americanism (i.e. in denial of certain aspects of a given American reality, or fraught with a desire to build a state that eliminates these negative but inevitable aspects of our humanity)?