Archives for category: Books/Reviews

The concluding pages of Politics in Plural Societies: A Theory of Democratic Instability (Rabushka and Shepsle, 1972) are interesting, and shed much light on recent American history. 

Alvin Rabushka and Kenneth A. Shepsle (1972), p. 217.

The reasons for the instability of democracy in what we today call “multicultural” societies is pretty obvious from even the most basic economic point of view:

  1. A set of wealth transfer programs expresses a basic set of values, but every culture and ethnicity has a different complexion of values (so do individuals, of course, which makes any forced wealth transfer scheme unstable even in a monoculture, but this problem is ramped up another notch in the plural society). When we force different groups to conform to a patterned set of wealth transfers and other ‘public goods,’ we compel folks to compromise on their values, with some people getting programs more in accord with their values than others. This breeds resentment and conflict and even violence.
  2. Disparate values also disenable cultural checks on the Tragedy of the Commons. If we see the public goods that a State attempts to provide as a commons, then the communal checks on abusing the common resource work less well when there are separate ethnic and other cultural communities. As a good Swede you may feel some compunction about mooching off the taxpayers, but add Finns and Muslim immigrants to the mix, and that moral check on over-use and over-access — the ‘over’ leading to instability, to draining the resource — may turn to a beggar-thy-neighbor approach, as separate groups aim to game the system by abuse. Further, in a democracy where the people set policy to some degree, there develops a beggar-thy-neighbor approach to rig the system in favor of each group at the expense of others. This of course leads to outrageous taxation and financial work-arounds, like central bank credit manipulation.
  3. Our naturally limited empathy becomes even more limited when we deal with different and hard-to-understand out-groups, and forcing us into collective solutions across cultural divides actually makes for more friction not less because of over-stressed empathy.

So, what to do? The authors’ final three options for culturally pluralistic societies are (a) reduced levels of public goods provision, leaving such goods to markets (laissez faire) [and non-political community action], (b) nation-building to create homogenous ethnic societies, and (c) finding enemies to fight against, thus uniting the populace by forcing in-group solidarity among disparate elements via upping the general fear level, finding commonality because of “existential threats.”

Alvin Rabushka and Kenneth A. Shepsle (1972), p. 216.

People generally do not want laissez faire because it means they have to provide value for value, and government constantly tempts them to seek benefits at others’ expense. This is why we have welfare states, for wealth transfer systems promise magical solutions and allow folks to channel their greed in socially acceptable ways, farding it up as “social justice.”

Nation-building to achieve ethnic unity requires either genocide or partitioning down to possibly really low levels. The former is of course horrible and the latter has the same problem that laissez faire has: it removes temptation to gain at others’ expense. People demand to yield to temptation.

But there is more!

Alvin Rabushka and Kenneth A. Shepsle (1972), p. 217.

Finding enemies to fight has been of course the dominant route for America for the past century, and the success of World War II has stuck the country in the mythology of a unifying righteous war, with everybody still hating on the Nazis, despite no obvious widespread Nazi sympathies, for instance. But since WWII, however, the plausibility of constant warfare has become shakier and shakier, while attempts to focus on causes like “global warming” are marred by the transparency of the political interest, the obvious problem of the science being dubious, and the disturbing spectacle of lying scientists and lunatic religiosity among the political pushers. An extraterrestrial threat — either from comets and asteroids, on the one hand, or UFOs on the other — are apparently being worked on now in the Deep State. But in a global society all these options are difficult to achieve because they depend on creating a consensus where consensus is not rationally warranted. Hence the continual disinformation and psy-ops. Which can be seen in the recent pandemic menace. And all this helps explain why we have a warfare-welfare state in America, not just a welfare state.

If you cannot obtain stability in a large population via normal democratic methods, then we see attempts to use anti-democratic means, such as orchestrated protests and riots, all-or-nothing political machinations, the increase in Executive discretion, cultural totalitarianism (p.c.), policy making by judges, and the very existence of an administrative state and its secretive operations (Deep State).

Localizing democracy and promoting federalism in a general context of laissez faire is, to me, the most obviously humane solution. But people are greedy and angry and resentful, as well as well-programmed by deeply partisan and increasingly anti-educational schooling, so such options find few adherents. It is a pity that this “easy way out” comes at great enough cost that few people see any advance in such a “minimax.”

Of course, Rabushka and Shepsle wrote 50 years ago, and their insights did not win the day. What seems to be winning is a very different program: “multiculturalism.”

Today’s much-touted multiculturalism, as I see it, isn’t what it says it is, i.e., for multiple cultures co-existing. Instead, it is a political movement that uses a set of out-group cultures as an excuse to revolutionize the State and inflict an ideological monoculture, using techniques familiar from limited access societies of the distant past, and from more recent totalitarian states. 

A workable multiculturalism worthy of the name would decrease (not constantly increase) the general level of legal obligations and the amount of public goods provided, not requiring disparate individuals and groups to share resources with people of different values. The rule would be toleration, not compulsory “acceptance” and marginalization of all who resist.

This is very basic stuff. I did not need to read Rabushka and Shepsle to have a handle on it. Indeed, a number of years ago I wrote an essay on “The Comedy of the Commons,” and floated it by a few friends. It covered most of this. Or, I think it did. I cannot now find it!

The upshot of all this is not hard to understand. I have no problem with multiple churches in my neighborhood, or a vibrant pop music scene featuring music I’ve no interest in, or a variety of family structures, from nuclear families, single-parent families, clans, and chain marriages. The idea is I don’t have to contribute to your cause, and you don’t have to contribute to mine. That would be true, tolerant multiculturalism.

The doctrine that currently goes by the name, however, is a changeling creature designed to destroy diversity in the name of diversity.

Indeed, it is no shock to witness a de-stabilizing ideology leap to deeply anti-social attitudes: street violence on the one hand, and ingratitude to benefactors (the rich, who pay the bulk of the taxes) on the other.

To witness post-modernist multiculturalists embrace policies that are obviously de-stabilizing suggests not only that some deep quasi-religious, even chthonian impulse is in play — a societal death wish? — but also that the Rabushka-Shepsle treatise needs more attention from today’s sociologists, social psychologists, historians and Public Choice economists.

twv

Freedom is a contextual concept: freedom of whom from what? Or, for that matter, freedom to what?

That “what” can vary.

That “whom” can vary.

Liberty is a synonym for freedom, derived from a different language group. But it is also often used as a term of art to distinguish one variety of freedom from another. Indeed, I use liberty as the best term for “the freedom that all can possess.” But my usage is not at all widely accepted.

In the American context, the distinctions of meaning can be bracing. Take Langston Hughes’s epigram on the subject:

There are words like Freedom 
Sweet and wonderful to say. 
On my heartstrings freedom sings 
All day everyday. 
There are words like Liberty 
That almost make me cry. 
If you had known what I know 
You would know why.

What is going on here?

Perhaps we can clarify this mystery, at least by a little, by consulting David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed (1989). In that mammoth volume, Fischer considered four sources of American culture in the folkways brought over to North America from four distinct regions of Britain. And among the folkways he considers are the power and liberty traditions. Here is the relevant passage on the Puritans’ concept of liberty:

So this “publick liberty” notion is the freedom of the community from foreign control to govern itself. It was definitely not about the freedom of the individual from control of others to govern him- or herself.

This is Yankee liberty, which is often quite oppressive of dissent, not friendly to renegades within the community. To this day, I catch a whiff of this sort of freedom from modern-day Democrats. When I was young, I thought I sniffed out its redolence in Republicans and conservatives.

If I am not mistaken, this is also intimately tied to the ancient notions of liberty discussed by Benjamin Constant.

To the south, though, another variety of liberty dominated culture:

Here we see the freedom of the superior individual from control by others, but to allow control over “inferiors,” however that may be defined. Langston Hughes probably knew who the inferiors were thought to be, all too well.

Much more congenial to my way of looking at liberty is the Quaker notion:

Here is a more familiar libertarian conception of freedom: of all from each others’ tyrannies and interferences to obey one’s conscience.

Finally, this freedom-from-restraint notion, for individuals, is even more thoroughgoing in the fourth folkway set that Fischer identified:

Here, the reciprocal liberty of the Quakers has the piety shaken free of it, for individuals’ freedom from interference and control is also a freedom to tell your neighbor to buzz off, if necessary, and without the nicety of “conscience.” It is a more muscular freedom, and not so much a spiritual matter as a defiant vulgarity.

The Puritan liberty is the freedom of all corporally, as determined by hierarchies as well as participatory governance; the gentlemen’s liberty, on the other hand, is their freedom, individually as gentlemen and within their class, but definitely not the freedom of all (not for the vulgar and inferior); and in the other two systems, freedom is reciprocal and universal, but with pious duty as a corollary in one system, and “mind your own business” in the other.

As I see it, all four strains are part of our everyday American culture, but the communal tyranny strains and gentlemen’s prerogative strains too dominant. Within the modern American libertarian movement the Quakers are represented by SJW-leaning beltway libs, and the backwoods boys represented by the more vulgar-tongued “right-wing” quasi-paleos.

I see some merit in both camps.

Liberty, as I see it, should be the freedom of all from interference and exploitation and control — from all others, to the preservation of their lives and the pursuit of happiness. How much freedom can actually be achieved? Partisans of the two major political parties think “not very much,” with the Democrats, especially, pushing Yankee busybodyism, but the Republicans still clinging to elements. And the Republicans see the world as far more dangerous than do Democrats, at least from foreign power plays, but under Trump the Dems have embraced an anti-Russian paranoia.

But note that even Benjamin Constant (1819) did not totally reject the political element of individual freedom:

Individual liberty, I repeat, is the true modern liberty. Political liberty is its guarantee; consequently political liberty is indispensable. But to ask the peoples of our day to sacrifice, like those of the past, the whole of their individual liberty to political liberty is the surest means of detaching them from the former and, once this result has been achieved, it would be only too easy to deprive them of the latter.

This lesson is something that libertarians will probably never be able to cease pressing to others. It is a lesson too easy to forget.

Meanwhile, of course, the dominant culture has forgotten everything important. Pierre Lemieux, in his foreword to the Constant edition, above, shows the danger of the ancient/Puritan power conception of liberty, and its continued emphasis in our post-modern times:

I fail to see much at all inspiring in any conception of liberty that is not, itself, understood in large part as incorporating individual freedom and personal responsibility.

In reading Benjamin Constant and David Hackett Fischer, I am moved to no small sadness for our culture, which has so far lost its way from the modern liberal progress, having reverted, instead — in our post-modern manner — to a vile, neo-ancient closed society illiberalism.

twv

I keep forgetting to mark, here, the short stories I read. Well, I just read a blogged story from long, long ago, “The Human Brick.”

It is short, and though hardly a masterpiece, it is worth reading, perhaps. What do you think?

On a not unrelated note, on Fb I made a list of the Top Ten Most Memorable Short Stories I Have Read and Can Recall Without Looking at Any Book or Listicle.

I ordered mine as they popped into my head:

1. The Dead, by James Joyce (Dubliners)
2. Homecoming, by Ray Bradbury (October Country)
3. The Sword of Welleran, by Lord Dunsany
4. Family Happiness, by Leo Tolstoy
5. The Upper Berth, by F. Marion Crawford (Wandering Ghosts)
6. The Blue Background, by Brian Aldiss (Isaac Asimov’s — but this is not sf)
7. Unaccompanied Sonata, by Orson Scott Card (Monkey Sonatas)
8. Leaf by Niggle, by J.R.R. Tolkien (The Tolkien Reader)
9. The Imp of the Perverse, by E. A. Poe
10. Think Like a Dinosaur, by James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s)

Runners up (meaning only that I thought of them after the above—many are better!):
Never Bet the Devil Your Head, by Poe
Hunting the Unicorn, by Lord Dunsany
The Lady of All Our Dreams, 
The Wedding Jest, and
Concerning David Jogram, by James Branch Cabell
Mortal Gods, by Orson Scott Card
A Clean Well-Lighted Place, by Ernest Hemingway
Blue Moon, by Connie Willis
The Indian Uprising, by Donald Barthelme
Redemption, by John Gardner
The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet, and
The Body, by Stephen King (Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction)
Back in the Eocene, by T. Coraghessan Boyle
The Moon Moth, by Jack Vance
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, and
Vaster Than Empires and More Slow, by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Grove of Ashtaroth, by John Buchan
Problems, by John Updike

I read Raymond Carver and John Cheever and other authors so long ago I forget their titles, but many great stories can be found in their work.

J. Sheridan le Fanu’s short story “Dickon the Devil,” which can be found in the third volume of The Collected Supernatural and Weird Fiction of J. Sheridan Le Fanu (2010), is a typical spook story of its period, the second half of the 19th century. It has scant drama, and is not dramatically told. The idea, I guess, was realism of presentation, to set the stage for the eldritch element — the indirect method.

The story first saw print in 1872. I cannot say I think much of this one, but
I will try others. Maybe I will even give the humungous novel included in the volume mentioned above, The House by the Churchyard, a go.

Reading Descent of Man (1979; 1987)

T. Coraghessan Boyle’s short stories, from the few I have read so far, are

  1. very good;
  2. often darkly comic; and
  3. close, perhaps kissing cousins, of genre science fiction.

My favorite of his, so far, is “Back in the Eocene,” a story about a father who tries to back up his son’s public school ‘education” about how bad “drugs” are, despite the fact that, “back in the Eocene,” that same father had taken and much enjoyed — and apparently not been harmed by — those now-demonized drugs.

That perspective, of times long gone still casting a shadow on the present, is effectively and humorously communicated by reference to the distant geologic past.

I read that story years ago. Tonight I read “Quetzálcoatl Lite” and “De Rerum Natura,” both to be found in his early collection, now seemingly Pleistocene past (if not Eocene), Descent of Man. The first is a sly tale of the collecting mania, in which a man vies with another, older collector, to find a rare beer can in the jungles of Central America. The second is a stranger tale of a genius inventor, one of whose inventions is a cat that lacks excretory functions. The title references Titus Lucretius Carus’s classic Epicurean poem (see George Santayana, Three Philosophical Poets).

That second story could have been published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. While not standard genre fiction, F&SF regularly publishes material in the same vein.

I consider authors like Boyle and, say, Will Self, to be ultra-fiction writers, engaged in a literary emprise that exists alongside popular traditions of fantasy and science fiction. Both are quite good, no doubt. But I do not consider them light years beyond many who inhabit the genre industry.

It is only by convention and bigotry that they exist in literary worlds utterly apart.

twv

N.B. “Back in the Eocene” and “De Rerum Natura” can be found in T.C. Boyle’s 1998 mega-collection, Stories.

Was Sax Rohmer racist?

That is the rap. His Fu-Manchu novels are said to be anti-Chinese. He certainly was a Yellow Peril pusher. But is the racist charge fully justified?

I do not know, and I do not really care to explore at length. Until yesterday, I had never read a word of the author. But yesterday I received a gift box of vintage American fiction — a good half being westerns, and many of the volumes from one popular publisher, Grosset & Dunlap — in which was included the first of Rohmer’s Fu-Manchu novels. I read the first page. I was not impressed.

So my interest then turned to finding a new home for the novel, someone who might appreciate it more than I do. In that cause, I snapped a photo of a broken binding spread of interior pages, and then looked at what was there.

An interesting passage, here highlighted:

My dubiety rises with my eyebrows.

This passage is about infanticide, which was once — and still is — practiced in China and elsewhere. It is also a gruesome, immoral practice . . . which is increasingly being defended in our abortion-loving West.

Rohmer may have been racist; I am no expert. But if you read this passage and take from it that this white male author was Racist and Therefore Evil, I suspect you yourself may have already embraced a different evil, the anti-human predilection for the destruction of one’s own (or others’) offspring.

Surely baby-killing, with or without a scorpions’ touch, is worse than “racism” unmodified.

If Rohmer seems racist to you for looking down upon a culture that practiced infanticide, maybe your own character needs some attending-to. On the face of it, the implicit defense of the lives of Chinese babies is not a likely case for anti-Chinese racism.

But, sure, something deeper may be involved. What if tolerant nods for infanticide and abortion — say, from a demagogic governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia — is at least sometimes an expression of racism? I bet some white westerners promote abortion and tolerate infanticide because . . . people of other colors engage in such horrors more often than whites.


If that is indeed your attitude, ask the next question: what evildoer “Fu-Manchu” does your attitude promote?

And is your “Fu-Manchu” white, and running for office in your favored political faction?

twv

In What Can Be Saved from the Wreckage?: James Branch Cabell in the Twenty-First Century, Michael Swanwick offers an explanation for Cabell’s current low standing in critical opinion: The author over-produced, and constructed a silly “complete works” (Storisende) edition of his Biography of the Life of Manuel, a vast, jerry-rigged assemblage padded with books that didn’t really belong and books insignificant compared to the best in the series. This forced his fans to read through second- and third-rate works for completism’s sake, thus tarnishing the memory of Cabell’s best.

Swanwick’s list of Cabellian classics is slender compared to Cabell’s output:

1. Figures of Earth
2. The Silver Stallion
3. Jurgen
4. The High Place
5. The Cream of the Jest
6. The Way of Ecben

with 

7. Domnei
8. Something About Eve and
9. a few stories, such as “The Wedding Jest”

thrown in for balance, though these latter are of second order.

I will podcast a review of this book. At risk of jumping the gun for that review, I will state, here, for the record, that Swanwick errs by not mentioning Cabell’s best story, The Music from Behind the Moon: An Epitome (the subtitle by Cabell accurately indicating its value and its place in his canon), and by slighting The Rivet in Grandfather’s Neck: A Comedy of Limitations, which, though surely not his best book, is the closest thing Cabell made to a standard novel, and is also a personal favorite (I have read it many times).

Further, Swanwick does not contemplate or give full regard for Cabell’s self-professed auctorial philosophy: He wrote chiefly for his own pleasure. That any of the works concocted on this primary standard fit with a wide readership can only be described as fortuitous. Cabell didn’t care.

I prefer to take the great ironist as not being ironic when it came to his frequent revelations of intent. By not considering this, Swanwick misses the nature of Cabellian irony and its place in his philosophy and literary method.

I also suspect that Swanwick grossly misinterprets and under-evaluates Hamlet Had an Uncle, and unjustly relegates Cabell’s last comedy, The Devil’s Own Dear Son: A Comedy of the Fatted Calf, to Maya’s field of contented but forgettable cattle. I remember reading The Devil’s Own Dear Son with much pleasure.

Still, Swanwick’s was a fun book, and included much material I had not encountered before. The Barry Humphries introduction is precisely the delightful-if-pointless kind of prefatory remarks one has come to expect in any book by or about Cabell. (Now that I think of it, Dame Edna is a very Cabellian kind of woman — though not, of course, a witch woman, and not a Norn.)

It is essential reading for those few of us who still read James Branch Cabell. Though I disagree with some of Swanwick’s judgments, I nevertheless greatly appreciate his book. I recommend it to others.

twv

Karl Marlantes, an all-too-typical comsymp.

Deep River is a novel about the valley over the hill from where I live. My mother grew up in that valley. She and my father built their first home in the valley head. My older siblings spent the early years of their lives there. I have fond memories, for the most part, of that shadowy place not far from home.

The novel is said to be quite good, and its author, Karl Marlantes, a genius.

He does not seem like one.

Not on the basis of the Seattle Times article about the novel, anyway. I got stuck on something he said, a comment about Communism. I raise more than a mere single eyebrow:

Today we have this fear of anyone who has a different political attitude from us. My grandmother was a communist, but her kitchen was clean. She wasn’t scary, but today we gin up the fear.

Oh, is that what we do? Gin up the fear. How thoughtless of us! How bigoted!

Replace one word in his defense of his grandma, though, and would anyone still consider his defense of his grandmother’s radicalism reasonable?

Today we have this fear of anyone who has a different political attitude from us. My grandmother was a Nazi, but her kitchen was clean. She wasn’t scary, but today we gin up the fear.

Karl Marlantes would not write that. He knows that National Socialism was evil. And had one of his relatives been a Nazi who worked as “a political agitator” stirring up “a heap of trouble” in trying to organize for a cause he approved of — like, I bet, a welfare state (which Nazi Germany did indeed establish) — he would rightly be too squeamish to brush aside our abhorrence of the ideology.

But it is worse than that. Communists killed over 100 million of their fellow citizens last century. Hitler, an utterly evil dictator, was a slacker compared to Stalin and Mao.

Oh, and Hitler praised Karl Marx’s economic analysis, too. Leftists cannot hide behind unhistorical platitudes of “anti-fascism” and a witless love for “the left.” The bodies pile up higher the further left you push. And even the “anarchist-communists”/“communist-anarchists” of bygone years have something to answer for, because they promoted ideas that led to revolution that in turn led to tyranny and mass slaughter.

And it is not as if the Wobblies, whom Marlantes’ character Aino — based on his grandmother — “agitated” for, were all sweetness and light. They engaged in quite a number of riots, and several forms of terrorism. Along with the bomb-throwing (and bomb-throwing adjacent) anarchists, they understandably got caught in the anti-terrorist backlash in the early 20th century, and were suppressed.

Marlantes appears to be a typical “progressive” moral moron. He carries on a long leftist tradition of taking sides in the Pick Your Tyranny game that has played for nearly a century. Fascism is bad; communism is . . . well, “communists mean well.”

I am not sure I have ever encountered a leftist willing to plumb the depths of the Totalitarian Ideology Problem, willing to not Pick Your Tyranny. They exist, sure. But once one really comes to grips with the problem, one tends to cease being a leftist.

Leftism is a culturally acceptable Yog-Sothothery, an open flirtation with outrageous moral horror. It is a cult. It corrupts minds. And it is very widespread among moderately bright artistic types. Like Karl Marlantes.


Oh, and for the record: my grandfather hated the Wobblies. Not all Finns were commies.

There were Red Finns, sure, but there were about an equal number of Church Finns — “Whites” — at least in America. My education in politics did not rest upon this divide, but it did haunt the back of my mind. I grew up knowing about the tragedy of “Karelian Fever.” I also knew of the terror of living under Stalin. Socialism of any kind was always a bit suspect.

What made me so lucky, when so many of my culturally “left” artists succumbed? Well, much older relatives of mine, who were Reds, knew it all too well. And told their story. Which was repeated.

Family lore about my great uncle and aunt was this: early in the mad “experiment” of Communism, they had moved, as newlyweds, to the USSR — and within six months became almost afraid of each other. Political correctness under a totalitarian state is one of terror, not mere ill manners and inconvenience. They fled, lucky to escape.

Finnish-Americans who will not honestly confront their history with communist evil don’t do anyone any good.

I will wait to read Marlantes’ latest novel, I think, perhaps pick it up used. Call it my personal boycott of apologists for totalitarianism, “politically correct” fools who make light of mass murder, regimentation, and the philosophy of pushiness and plunder.

twv

I just watched a roomful of men with cigars (one of them being Senator Ted Cruz) talk about the ending to HBO’s Game of Thrones, and though there is much good criticism about what went wrong and why, not one of them gets to what I think of as the weirdest and most astounding error: the fizzle of the Winter, which was all build-up and no pay-off.

Winter should have, by the penultimate episode, put King’s Landing under many feet of snow, and the show’s last scene should have been a montage of people all over Westeros tunneling under strata of snow, eking out the barest holds on existence after the stores of food had been depleted by war after war. In this context the dragon and the Night King would have had their final haunting presences.

An album titled after the first cut, a piece by the great Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen.

High fantasy lives and dies by what Lawrence Durrell called a Sense of Place. Or, to put it in different terms, high fantasy works by conjuring up Faërie. Which is a place as well as a state of mind. In addition to archetypes instantiated, high fantasy gives us weird and strange worlds that are themselves characters of over-arching importance. William Morris in The Water of the Wondrous Isles, The Well at the World’s End and The Sundering Flood; Lord Dunsany in “The Sword of Welleran” and “Charon” and The King of Elfland’s Daughter; J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; Mervyn Peake in Titus Groan and Gormenghast; Peter S. Beagle in The Last Unicorn — all of these succeed by making place as important as plot and character.

In the end, it is the place that is Westeros that was betrayed in the final season of Game of Thrones. The showrunners and writers got too caught up in plot and (to a lesser extent, character) to not realize that their great mission was to be true to an imagined world. A world that George R. R, Martin imagined, in his as-yet-unfinished series of books, and as he built into the very structure of his story.

And the great truth about his world was uttered often, and which served as the motto of House Stark: “Winter Is Coming.”

It barely arrived at all. In the final scene Jon Snow and his wildlings head north of the Wall with barely a flake falling from the sky and a mere dusting on the ground.

No wonder the ending lacked fire. It had too little ice.

twv

William Morris’s last romance, and probably his best.
This just in my library — recently purchased.

I have in my hand a book about an important political figure I had either not heard of before, or had completely forgotten . . . that is, before I laid hand on this book.

Adolf A. Berle, Jr., was, apparently, a major figure in the “liberalism” in the epoch of FDR and JFK. According to the preface, which is all I have read so far, he was quite influential. Why had I not remembered his name, then? Well, it is not a period I have studied, so I am sure I can be forgiven for my ignorance or forgetfulness. But his was a time I am more than familiar with — my father’s time, so to speak, the time in which my father came of age and grew to maturity and, in fact, a time into which I was born, at the very end — one of my earliest memories is of the live TV coverage in the aftermath of the JFK assassination.

I have dozens of other books to read in my library before this, so I will probably just take away from this book acquisition, for now, my conjecture as to why Adolf Berle is not more often spoken about: it is that name, Adolf.

Hitler’s dark presence eclipsed Berle’s fame, and threatened him with infamy he almost certainly did not deserve. Why the man did not, in the 1940s, adapt to his time by styling himself as “A. Augustus Berle” I know not. Maybe Jordan A. Schwarz, the author of this biography, will explain.

But I can imagine rationales for not trying to solve the problem. Perhaps Berle preferred to stay somewhat behind the scenes. Maybe he hankered a bit for lathe biosas — to the extent anyone who aspired to be “the Marx of the shareholding class” and a “Machiavelli,” too, could manage that — and he simply accepted his fate.

Be that as it may, Berle helped architect the corporatist order of our age, designing and implementing a more durable analog of “national socialism,” slinging a new form of imperialism:

Liberal: Adolf A. Berle and the Vision of an American Era, p. viii
Liberal: Adolf A. Berle and the Vision of an American Era, p. ix

It is worth thinking about this man, for the political party he devoted himself to is now forsaking his mission, replacing it with an insane, moralistic form of statism, a frank socialism or at least quasi-socialism. Berle’s beloved “New Deal” vision is being replaced with an incoherent “Green New Deal,” as concocted by people who are both unlearned and confident, a bad combo, but all-too-familiar in this Trumpian Moment.

It seems apparent to me that Berle’s “American Era” is drawing to a close. I do not know if it will end with a bang or a whimper. I suspect both, in quick succession. Right now is just the time for whining.

My chief wonder, in this regard, is whether the end will come before I make time to read this book.

twv