Edmund Wilson: “Flaubert’s Politics”

Flaubert was a gut-thinking right winger with a libertarian streak, a rentier worried about his nest egg first and last. I have never been able to figure out why he hated the bourgeoisie , but his hatred for socialists and the general population is unmysterious.

The contortions Wilson goes through to make Flaubert seem like anything other than what he was are highly amusing. To speak warmly of devoted house servants doesn’t make you a democrat. Feudal lords enormously admired their devoted house servants. Bill Buckley admired his devoted house servants.

This was a turning point for The New York Intellectuals (TM), when they decide that left politics was an entirely lost cause and they were going have to become something else. Pretending that apolitical and right wing writers were the REAL radicals was their halfway house on the way to becoming Cold War liberals.

 

Edmund Wilson: Flaubert’s Politics

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Published in: on January 21, 2017 at 7:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Hello Laos!

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The War Conspiracy
Peter Dale Scott

Souvanna Phouma was forced out of office on July 23, 1958.
Richard Dale Scott, The War Conspiracy, p. 69.
(DATE CORRECTED)

July 23, 1958, was my 12th birthday. The forced change of government in Laos was one of the first steps on the way to the Vietnam War which dominated my 20s and early 30s, and not just mine.

Oddly, this was not one of those “Little did they know!” stories. I was a nerdy and precocious kid,  already afflicted with the fascination with politics which has been the bane of my existence, and if I didn’t notice what happened at that very moment, within a year I became familiar with names which I will never forget: Boun Oum, Souphanavong, Nguyen Khanh…..

While I was still in high school I went to a summer school for the talented and gifted. To all intents and purposes it was a neocon recruiting ground, even though the neocons didn’t exist yet, and while I washed out I did have the privilege of meeting Paul Wolfowitz, Abe Shulsky, and several others who became neocon big shots.

As for Vietnam….. 60-70% of the guys served in the military during that period, if you included the National Guards (whom the real veterans named “No Good and Not Going”). The best athlete the school ever had was all shot up. After a dozen reconstructive surgeries and a life of pain he died at age 59. As for me, I went to jail as a war resister and ended up living outside the law for a few more years. When I went back there for a few years when I was 59 several of the Vietnam Vets went out of their way to be friendly to me.

One of my college teachers ended up publishing an early expose of American Vietnam policy which ended up being eclipsed by Daniel Ellsburg’s revelation. I liked his class but not him, nor did he like me, and I’ve been told that he ended up going off the deep end.

Years later my son had a Lao best friend in school, Sithapou. Lao are tall and Sithapou was all-city in Portland the same year as Damon Stoudamire, who went on to a pro career. At about that time I was teaching Hmong kids in the Portland Public schools, with their memories of opium growing and domestic elephants. A couple years later when I lived in Taiwan, on my way to work at the LTTC I walked past the headquarters of the World Anti-Communist League, which (under the name “Asian Anti-Communist League”) had been involved in the Lao drug trade in an earlier period. A little earlier I had been a very active opponent of the US policy in Central America, where the WACL had been supporting the rightwing governments. And by sheer coincidence, the teacher I worked for in the public schools had had a “counter-terrorist” boyfriend who had worked in Central America,  and told me that one of the janitors at the school was a Salvadoran (presumably rightwing) who was cooling off in the US.

So what’s the point? Well, all those “political things” that people sometimes claim are distant and unreal kept on showing up in my life. In the case of the summer school and my involvement in anti-war activity, perhaps it was something about me, but the other things could have happened to anyone. It was right there if someone wanted to see it. But mostly people don’t want to think about things like that, or talk about them. Not polite.

Peter Dale Scott? Yes, he’s a conspiracy theorist, the best of the bunch. And I’m down the rabbit hole.

I

Published in: on January 19, 2017 at 7:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Prodigal Sons by Alexander Bloom

Prodigal Sons
Alexander Bloom,
Oxford 1986

 

I’ve been reading about the prehistory of the Cold War university world I entered  in 1964 as a college freshman, and it has been utterly depressing. The message I get is that  international politics and war trump domestic politics, and above all that they trump attempts at radical change or even reform. Great-power slush funds overwhelm everything else.

This book tells the story of the trajectory of the New York Intellectuals (Partisan Review, Commentary, Dissent, Public Interest) from their beginnings as very poor working-class radical  Jews with literary interests through Stalinism and anti-Stalinist radicalism to anti-Communist liberalism and  influential positions in American culture and the American university.

Citing Diana Trilling and Leslie Fiedler, Bloom notes that some of the intensity of the New York Intellectuals’ post-WWII anti-Communism may have been a result of the simple fear (or even guilt) felt by people who had dirty hands themselves — with the Rosenbergs serving as an expiatory burnt offering. The ferocious anti-Communist Sidney Hook had been a ferocious Communist during the Thirties, for example, and most of the New York Intellectuals had been isolationists right up until Pearl Harbor.

 

At times liberal anti-Communism just looks like a factional vendetta, where the prosecutions of the pro-Soviet Communists work as revenge for the Smith Act prosecutions of the anti-war Trotskyists. (Bloom doesn’t underline the fact, but many of the anti-Stalinist radicals redefined themselves as anti-Communist liberals without any previous history of liberalism, and the first thing they did was to attack existing civil-libertarian and anti-anti-Communist liberals of long standing).

In part because American foreign policy temporarily needed non-reactionary American anti-Communists to front for their European operations (The Politics of Apolitical Culture, Giles Scott-Smith) , and in part because the U.S. was moving in an authoritarian direction domestically, anti-Communist quasi-liberalism proved to be the road to success, though often enough  it was merely a half-way house to full-blown Strauss-Schmitt-Hayek anti-liberalism.

As I said above, war and foreign policy trump everything else.  Little as I admire the New York Intellectuals’ 1950s position, I am not sure that there was a better one available to be taken. If they had acted in a way more to my liking, I suspect that they would have retuirned to obscurity while someone else was found to get the job done. The post-WWII Eurasia / Eastasia switch, rather like an earthquake, destroyed all earlier political positions and severely limited post-earthquake possibilities. At least members of the losing faction weren’t subject to the death of a thousand cuts, as they might have been in the Chinese or the Byzantine empire.

All of the New York Intellectuals were very, very serious — Elliot Cohen, the first editor of Commentary, called them humorless. More evidence for my conviction that ambitious players without a capacity for fundamental unseriousness run the risk of becoming apparatchiks.

P.S. Yes, this is a worst-case reading. Caveat emptor and YMMV. This has been a sore point for me for years.

Published in: on January 9, 2017 at 9:46 pm  Comments (1)