my next self-publishing project will be an anthology of american anti-authoritarian writings from the 17th through the 19th century. a number of fundamental texts here are far-too-little known and not widely enough available. many of them are quite unimaginably defiant. here is the toc, still subject to alteration:
Trial and Interrogation of Anne Hutchinson (1637)
Roger Williams, "A Plea for Religious Liberty" (1644)
John Woolman, "A Plea for the Poor, or a Word of Remembrance and Caution to the Rich" (1764)
Anti-Federalist Papers (1787)
Samuel Bryan, Centinel 1
Robert Yates, Brutus 3
Robert Yates, Brutus 6
James Madison, "The Virginia Resolutions" (1798)
Letter to Governor Harrison (1810)
Speech to the Osages (1812)
John Taylor of Caroline, "Authority" (1814)
David Walker, "Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World" (Preamble and Article 1, 1830)
Sarah Grimke, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes (selections, 1838)
William Lloyd Garrison, "Declaration of Sentiments Adopted by the Peace Convention" (1838)
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nathaniel Peabody Rogers
"Reply to a Correspondent" (1846)
Josiah Warren, Equitable Commerce (1846)
Henry David Thoreau
"Civil Disobedience" (1849)
"Life Without Principle (1863)
Lucretia Mott, "The Laws in Relation to Women" (1853)
Frederick Douglass, "The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered" (1854)
Angela Heywood, "Human Sex Power - Fleshed Realism"
Responding to the idea that God the Father demands capital punishment, Rogers writes as follows.
What would one of these fathers, here on earth, think of his family of children, who should set up such an institution, out of his door-yard where they go to play, and should string up little Charley or Anna or whoever by the neck, for some childish misdemeanor, done without permission of the majority of them? How would he feel - the depraved old gentleman - coming out, some time, to enjoy the glee of the young ones, to find one of them dangling by the neck, and older brother Sam, or Jim, standing dismally by, as Chaplain? And then Jim or Sam roll up the white of their eyes, and charge him with having ordained what they had been about.
If the family are of a gibbety temper and character, why let them have gibbets and be hanged to them. And if they don't hate one another quite bad enough for that, and do, for shutting up in dungeons for life or for years - let them have dungeons. Or fine or whip or crop ears, or whatever the family are malignant and hateful enough, to do. When they come to love one another, they will leave it off. Cross children will snap at each other and quarrel. Deprave them sufficiently, make them bad enough, and they will strangle one another.
as i've often said, i think that american transcendentalism is ineptly named; i'd prefer an antonym, actually, such as 'immanentalism.' now i think the canon needs expanding, and i think the narrative according to which transcendentalism was superseded by pragmatism is simplistic.
so, if i were assembling a set of transcendentalist essays, i might start with rogers. i would certainly include essays by voltairine de cleyre, perhaps 'the dominant idea' and 'crime and punishment.' and i might fetch up with zora neale hurston: i am straight up asserting that zora is an american transcendentalist in the thoreau mould. a volume focusing exclusively on her essays is long overdue.
in the hands of lit and phil profs, the transcendentalists have sunk into quaint american fossils, groovy proto-hippie nature children, with an embarrassing political individualism that no one can believe anymore, or that must be attenuated or vitiated under interpretation. but a good part of the whole thrust is political from the outset in rogers, emerson, thoreau: a radical anti-authoritarianism. and they have a beautiful individualism that is also not at all about economic self-seeking, but derives from protestant notions like the quaker inner light of god in each person. also, this individualism is a radical egalitarianism, as you see in rogers, in voltairine, in hurston. and it is an individualism that connects with the natural world in much the way many had previously connected to god, and then seeks to place us each as an individuals - not as races, not genders, not parties, not classes, not general wills - into the same shared world.
19th-century whiteness studies, from 'rhose island meeting':
rhode island was proposing a new constitution with a color qualification for voting.
To make it go down with the people, the pitiful creatures inserted a color qualification. They must put in white - the color of the gulls you see winging their uncouth flight up and down the harbor - to shut out three or four hundred colored people, who otherwise might, - when they get money enough, go to the free and equal polls, to choose their masters. The patron of the new Constitution had assumed the name of the "Free Suffrage party."
Their freedom showed itself in making a man's hue the test of his rights. They felt free to enslave a man if he was not white as a diaper. One or two of their demagogues came into the meeting. One was a Dr. Brown, a steam doctor, whose political morality seemed about as high as that of a railroad engine with a Jim Crow car to it; or a church with a "nigger pew." The Doctor gave us an exposè of his white ethics. It seemed he wanted to get suffrage for the white folks, in order, by and by to extend it to the black. [But getting the vote] would not have any tendency to help the colored people out. It would prove a worthless boon in their hands. The white folks would not acknowledge them as equals if they were nominally voters. They never would consent to their being candidates for any thing. They would treat them as "niggers" still.
i'm telling you this is a discovery: someone's going to have to convince me that a more important straight-to-e book has been published.
A great and almost unknown American writer from New Hampshire, Nathaniel Peabody Rogers (1794-1846) was the most radical American political voice of the antebellum period. He is also an undiscovered American Transcendentalist, at his best comparable to Emerson and Thoreau. Both men acknowledged Rogers' influence on them, and Thoreau published one of his first essays - collected here - on Rogers' work, recognizing his excellence as both a political and a nature writer. Anti-slavery drove all his thought, and as an abolitionist writer, only Frederick Douglass and Wendell Phillips are his rivals. Rogers was an anarchist, a pacifist, a feminist, an environmentalist, a religious heretic, an individualist, an anti-capitalist and an advocate of animal rights.
His writings are collected here for the first time since 1849, along with Thoreau's essay "Herald of Freedom" and other materials about Rogers and American radicalism of the early 19th century.
nathaniel rogers was an amazing radical and an amazing writer, and if you want to see someone in 1840 who speaks up for animal rights, against capital punishment, against slavery, against the state, for environmentalism as that came much later to be understood, for indian rights, and so on, and did so with extreme clarity, creativity and vigor, you've got to check this out. he was a decade emerson's senior, and he is a fundamental american transcendentalist.
my case should unite anarchists and tea partiers. they always should have been united. so perhaps, left anarchists, you think the advocacy of gun rights in country music is disgusting. well, over and over, the gun is wielded in country music and elsewhere in rural rightwingy culture, as a symbol of resistance to state power. maybe you favor black brigades rolling with rocks and molotov cocktail, but the damn impulse is the same, and even the motivation: the way people are being dominated and impoverished. so get over your little demographic fealty and reach across.
as i travel this amazing land, i meet many people just like you -- in fact precisely, uncannily like you. they ask me, 'senator sartwell, what would you do to restore america's greatness?'
but let's not get ahead of ourselves. if elected, i will strive to make america mediocre again, if indeed we have ever risen to mediocrity in the past. you can't get from here to great without passing through mediocre, and of course you can't get to 'great again' at all, more or less. let's work on second-rate; i realize that is utopian in itself, but i am a congenital optimist! some of our least obviously suckass days may well possibly be ahead of us, unlikely as that seems.
from time to time the question arises as to what, if anything, it means to be an 'american philosopher', or even whether i, personally, am an american philosopher. then i guess we'd have to define 'america', haha! rorty is pretty funny in the film, he's all like: forget it, it's uninteresting, whatever. that is the essence of rorty right there, and i say it's just because phil mcreynolds was kind of relentless on that question, and rorty habitually just tried to undercut or shrug off the underpinnings of any question. at another moment, he'd go all passionate about being an american, and so on, even while of course being 'anti-essentialist' about it.
anyway, i could say that first off, i feel extremely american. i could only happen here. i live in an andrew wyeth calendar, except that most of the residents are now mexicans: what's more american than that? i identify with many dimensions of american culture, and i'll tell you what, the blues and country and hip hop could have happened nowhere else, and in general the rest of the world does not understand popular music, which is my most important, say, cultural repository. american slangs, sub-cultures, television, sports, politics, and so on: i am so it, even if i'm repudiating little bits of it. i like some aspects of our mythology, and i'm still showing you clint eastwood movies, bugs bunny cartoons, and making you read self-reliance.
but also, i do feel a deep affinity to many figures in the american tradition, and i do see my work as continuous with theirs in some way or responsive to it. this is not only true of americans, and for example i have been grappling with kierkegaard and chuang tzu for decades. but i really do feel an intense affinity for figures in the american tradition, a kind of immediate recognition. i might mention jonathan edwards, the 1776 revolutionaries, lucretia mott, emerson, thoreau, william lloyd garrison, josiah warren, poe, james, emma goldman, mencken, marcus garvey, malcolm x, abbie hoffman, and w.v.o. quine, to begin with. i associate the american political tradition with individual rights and limitations on state power, notions i endorse. our central political concept, to my way of thinking, is liberty.
in a menckeny way, i sort of love/hate our culture, and though you can try to understand trump as a berlasconi or something, you only get him in america. i sort of love our hustlers, or even our charlatans, and sometimes it gets to be art, like say in zora neale hurston or notorious b.i.g. or glen beck. or shonda rhymes. we make quite a spectacle. i love many parts of our physical country, from the cities of baltimore and philadelphia to the rural deep south, where i've lived and explored. i'm telling you my connection to my place is felt continually; i work on it, fo real.
but that, like many commitments, is a selection from a smorgasbord. there are no positions one has to accept in order to be an american thinker or whatever. in particular, the notion that the pragmatic theory of truth is our central identity or something is eminently rejectable, and i do hold that it is a terrible theory. and i don't know that it's particularly great and amazing to be an american, as opposed to a kenyan or whatever, philosopher. and 'american' is an excruciatingly problematic concept or identity, which we can try to wrestle with if you want.
i am and am not 'proud' to be an american, and in a way i feel a sort of patriotic loyalty to my culture, or my roiling world of sub-cultures, but of course none to my government. the shining city on a hill etc is the worst sort of bullshit; we've been no better than average, and are even now a terrifyingly oppressive force with regard to much of the world and ourselves. we've built on death, pain, exploitation, like many cultures. ok? guess what, for better and worse, in resistance and in collusion and self-interest, all that is in me too.
by the same token, writing let's say as a white man in the middle of a powerful country, in a world-dominant language, lends a kind of effortless yet suspicious cosmopolitanism. it's easy to feel central, maybe especially for those of us who grew up in dc as the american empire grew to fruition and found limits too. we felt ourselves to be at the center, unlike many previous generations of americans who were characteristically anxious about american and hence their own provincialism. anyway, i/we speak - in philosophy and elsewhere - from a kind of privilege that is effortlessly pleasurable and useful but also a problem.
I've been very sick the last couple of weeks. One course of pretty nasty antibiotics and I started to feel better and then wham! Back to the local Stop&Doc where I got the first prescription and the office, which serves a couple of hundred people daily. They couldn't find a substitute to cover while the normal guy took some vacation. We commiserated back and forth, since I needed help; and they -- four people -- were waiting for the word to close shop and 3/4s of a day's pay.
While this was a personal problem, it got me thinking. I've had 2-4 cases of strep throat and associated problems every year since before Crispin was born. Had the tonsils out when I was 20 and the idea that no more sore throats was a total lie. However, there was a lot less misery. Still, when it gets full blown, I'm pretty useless. More so than normal, according to some.
On the other hand, I've never had smallpox, tetanus, swine flu, diphtheria, thyroid, tetanus, rabies, rubella, shingles, malaria, plague, anthrax or any of the other stuff I've been vaccinated for. Made me wonder why this is so...
I sense that like me, Crispin has been taking a vacation from giving a damn about US presidential politics, but occasionally feels pulled back into it. Certainly, in the progression of American culture, presidential politics, choices and elections have been used to make transitions. Kennedy replaced tired, worn out old Eisenhower with vigah! and such -- in reality, drugged to the gills for back pain, suffering from Addisons and various iterations of venereal disease. Ronald Reagan was going to reform everything after the weakness of Jimmy Carter and then should have been impeached for the Iran Contra deal. And so on -- Barrack Obama was supposed to mark out transition to being a post racial nation, and since then we have gotten to continually play out our dark night of the soul in communities all over the country.
Crispin's more populist work, like cheese it, tend toward an ironic approach which was my first reason for reading his stuff. This piece, which comes at least in part from his piece on the Philosophy of Edgar Allan Poe, contains more than a little of it. Basically, one could contend that Crispin examines the idea of human self-improvement as moral and ethical and compassionate human beings.
It's safe to say he approves that outcome, he just doesn't think it's very likely. I suspect most of us will probably agree, at least in part. As I tell the conspiracy freaks who normally read my stuff, if I'm looking for a reason why somebody did something stupid, I opt first for stupidity and then for the seven deadly sins. Dr, King was hopefully correct about the arc of human history being toward justice, but I'd hedge those bets with one's on sloth, gluttony, greed, lust, hatred, anger and pride.
My dad told me that a good manager was right more than 51% of the time. I think he was right -- great managers and leaders probably get it right around 60% of the time, and generally get the big things right. Republicans tend to get facts and theories and bullshit confused and are seldom right but their voters don't care that much. Like heroin, most Republican voters lose in the long run, but it's all about the rush! Quants generally get all the minor shit absolutely spot on, but punt the big things. Go figure.
Crispin is a philosopher and card trickster. He doesn't care about being right until he does, and then it's usually too late. But, Crispin is right about 50% of the time and when he's wrong, it's usually due to some misplaced faith in human beings.
people do look awfully grim about the war between kim jong un and seth rogen, but i just want to point out that it is the greatest story ever, just a complete delight. when 10th graders in 2153 read about american history, seth rogen will be the major figure, the turning point, like lincoln or napoleon. we have lived through the moment when seth rogen went from so-lame-it's-funny comedian to world-bestriding colussus. this will be remembered as the era in which americans followed seth rogen unquestioningly to our doom. the seth rogen era, world war seth, was always where the inevitable process of history was going to end up. now only james franco can save or redeem us.
one thing that, for me, distinguishes american torture programs since 9.11 from any old torture by anyone here or there, is that i helped pay for them. that rather annoys me, i must say, though i draw some comfort from the fact that they obtained this money from me under coercion. i do appreciate that part of it.
i have rarely seen a more formidable or angry or focused senator than dianne feinstein over the last two days. and i will say this: a straight-up totalitarian system could never have released that information. but the difference between sheer totalitarianism and something not that - under conditions of universal continual survellance, militarized police power, intelligence services as the basic centers of abusive power, and so on - is just the principled anger of someone like feinstein, who actually does have some power. also it depends, as i argued a few months ago, on such people being clean, on their having no skeletons whatsoever. if feinstein had a drug habit or had engaged in a series of affairs, john brennan would control her without effort.
If I were Barrack Obama, I'd feel justified in asking God what the hell I'd ever done to him that merited this whirlwind of insanity. I think that smart, thoughtful presidents in the 21st Century aare at an awful disadvantage politically, and have been really since the Kennedy assassination. The guy is trying to do good things, but the world doesn't cooperate. It can't -- it's the world and consists of a lot of insane people with guns, money, lawyers, ski masks and a mass of contradictory hidden agendas and open manifestos. In some ways, ISIL is a nice change -- they don't have a secret agenda, they're pretty open. They don't report to the same God that most of us recognize in the 21st Century. Still, they may call him Allah, but I think they worship Cthulhu or some other very dark overlord with a completely different agenda.
I have a new piece up on the Defeatists. It will surface eventually over at Veterans Today but this one doesn't have the musical pieces just linked but embedded. As well as John Oliver's piece last night on our version of the great leap forward, the Nuclear Program. Did you know our Nobel Peace Prize Laureate has been in charge while we decommissioned fewer nuclear missiles than were done under Bush? Either one? Amazing.
I'm fairly irate over a lot of things involving the various wars we're not fighting but are definitely invested in. What the hell? The one way to guarantee Sunni-Shiite peace is through blowing up Christian and Shiite shrines...this is obviously a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis funded al Queida (just never stopped sending the checks they sent the Muhajadeen, I suppose) and are probably funding the current loonies. Malaki is the classic American puppet who really turns into a bad boy as soon as he can. Unfortunately, the bad guys were perfectly ready to smash his ass; so, blood bath.
And so it goes. Gaza is horrifying; both Jon Stewart and John Oliver have laid out how insane that mess is becoming. When you can arrange to give the moral high ground away for generations to a bunch of missile firing terrorists, you've done something pretty amazing. Ukarine is dumbfounding. We're cowering behind our fence wondering what to do about 50000 children fleeing terror, hatred, violence, oppression and slavery, and we're questioning whether or not they deserve asylum? They deserve fucking medals; give them 40 acres and a mule, and Mom and kids will make that desert bloom...
one might consider how america would respond if it was wasp toddlers showing up at the border, their cute j. crew and tommy hilfiger outfits in tatters, with stories from the yacht club or golf course of terrible suffering at the hands of latino street gangs.
It always bothers me when progressives and liberals say stuff that is incredibly stupid or just knee-jerk reaction to some stimulous. There is a problem among true believers that is relevant largely to true believers...anyone who has not confused themselves with God can usually sense the absurdity of their silliness and maybe even stop...
So, if you want to check out some music and read my argument, visit the link. Links posted in this one are all to music. Dylan has published enough stuff and had enough of it bootlegged to guarantee some decent stuff. Comments are always welcome. Cripsin will undoubtedly explain why he thinks Dylan less of a figure than Blondel the Troubador or Blind Lemon Jefferson, and that's ok.
on aca and nsa: i was always opposed to the individual mandate on fundamental 'what the gov could legitimately do' grounds. but on the other hand i took a strategy that i've taken to lately: well, if i were screaming, this isn't the first thing i'd scream about, because actually it sucks that people don't have access to healthcare. but reading the healthcare law through the nsa: we are dealing with a government that really has no respect for the autonomy, privacy, or liberty of anyone. so, for one thing, all info you provide to these exchanges is available to corporations, is available to the nsa, is available to homeland security, immigration, irs etc. the aca crystallizes as a very serious dimension of authoritarian control and insufferable, indefensible, and extremely threatening surveillance. the latter is what really has put paid to the american political tradition. obviously, the whole thing is cheneyesque, and if you think i didn't or don't blame the bush admin, you're wrong. but for the dems, it fits in really with a vision of state dominance of every aspect of human life: the economy, education, health, information, etc. it fits with the idea that individual rights is bourgeois ideology (which of course is a remark that has only ever been made by members of the bourgeoisie). they really believe that actual human beings have no rights their government is bound to respect, on the hilarious grounds - the obviously false and entirely disingenuous grounds - that after all the government is all of us working together: it is our collective identity, and there's no such thing as individual identity. that's why we're coercing and surveiling you in every possible aspect: because that's actually who you are even though you may be confused about that. the ridiculousness of that doctrine is matched only by its disastrous consequences: it is a premonition of genocide.
at any rate, you might think about a situation in which you are dependent for your most basic needs, for your life itself, on someone who is all the while abusing you. say you are gendergapy leftish woman. you could perhaps reflect on the fact that this is what you want, or at least what you vote for. otherwise i'll be blaming the victims, at least such victims as are enthusiastic endorsers of and collaborators in their own abuse. look, she wanted it all along: every blow was justified by her own desire. yes i monitored her every move; that's why i couldn't let her out of the basement: because i love her, really. and of course i was feeding her the whole time, so why is she whining now over there at the shelter? try not to be a people of whom that is actually true (as reflected in polling or voting, e.g.), is my advice to us.
i just want to say clearly that no president has ever been as obviously or urgently impeachable as barack obama. he oversees a massive criminal enterprise and has systematically engaged in an entirely fundamental betrayal of the liberties the american republic was founded to preserve. perhaps he studied and taught constitutional law in order to figure out how best to go about dismantling the already-disintegrating old edifice brick by brick, and then how to hammer each brick to a reddish dust. why aren't congresspersons talking about this? well, just possibly he's got their emails, web activities, text messages, phone calls, etc in a nice chunky hard-drive in the oval office. at any rate, i'd assume that were i congressperson. they'll be engaged in rituals of submission right about now. seems like a nice guy, though. and, as uncle joe says, so clean and articulate!
one of the great repertoires in american song is bluegrass gospel. the form was of course established by bill monroe's early bands, and he used to break off a set in each show to do something more quiet, meditative, and based on quartet harmonies rather than virtuoso instrumental runs. but the style drew from a very eclectic set of resources: the hymnal and choir parts, of course; black spirituals, blues, and gospel (which had already been criss-crossed with white church music throughout); popular religious music (no bluegrass band couldn't do you some version of 'i saw the light'); original compositions. the repertoire was established especially by the stanley brothers, whose gospel recordings are just chillingly amazing, and flatt and scruggs (who i'd tend to minimize a bit in this area, except especially as providing important parts to the songbook). of course there are many other contributors.
ever since, it has been traditional for virtually every bluegrass group of any description in every era to play some gospel songs; traditionally it's the last cut even on a set of love songs. many artists made a living at it, of course, touring rural churches throughout the country.
the form has continued throughout to absorb many eclectic influences while returning again and again to the classics. i actually have to say i particularly love love the era that has emerged since the 80s: where the stanleys made your hair stand up because they sounded like they were singing from the nineteenth century or from reality itself, groups such as doyle lawson and quicksilver, hot rize, iiird tyme out, audie blaylock and and redline, johnson mountain boys/longview, dailey and vincent have absolutely perfected the harmonies, which are, i say, celestial. you lose something because they don't sound so wild and rural. you gain some of the most simply and intensely and elaborately beautiful music ever made. it's still the high tenors that grab you by the throat and transport you to another realm, so to speak: russell moore, dudley connell, darrin vincent, audie blaylock, tim o'brien. they're very intensely expressive. and superb craftsmanship never hurt a soul, other things being equal.
don't hate it cause it's religious even if you're not! if anyone could be converted into a snakehandler by listening to this material over and over, i'd be writhing by now. you listened to all that marley and you don't believe that haile selassie is the living god, am i right? your beliefs emerged unscathed from your encounter with the sistine ceiling etc. admittedly it's a relief that people aren't singing about depravity or consumer products. or even about themselves. it seems wholesome. but it has its light side and its dark. this is definitely one way people face death.
all of the items listed below are superlative examples of human skill and love.
Audie Blaylock and Redline
"Who'll Sing for Me?"
"Lord Lead Me On"
"He is Near"
"Pray the Clouds Away"
Dailey & Vincent
"By the Mark"
"Living in the Kingdom of God"
"Oh Ye Must Be Born Again"
"When I've Traveled My Last Mile"
Dale Ann Bradley
"Passed Through the Crowd"
"Clinging to a Saving Hand"
Dry Branch Fire Squad
"I'll Be No Stranger"
"Lookinf for the Stone"
"Memories that Bless and Burn"
"Hide You in the Blood"
"Were You There?"
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
"Hiding From the Storm Outside"
"The Cross Road"
"When We Meet to Part No More"
"Hear Jerusalem Moan"
"You Don't Have to Move That Mountain"
"Working on a Building"
"Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning"
"Tenderly Calling (Home, C'mon Home)"
IIIrd Tyme Out
"Drifting Too Far From the Shore"
"When He Reached Down His Hand for Me"
"I Pray My Way Out of Trouble"
"Just Call on Him"
"He'll Take You In"
"I'm Working on the Road To Glory Land"
"It's a Lonesome Road"
"He Said if I Be lifted Up"
"Drifting Too Far From the Shore"
"Lord Protect My Soul"
"Eternity Has Begun"
Johnson Mountain Boys
"I've Found a Hiding Place"
"Harbor of Love"
"Get Down on Your Knees and Pray"
"God's Not Dead"
"See God's Ark A'Movin"
"Voice of My Savior"
"Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown?"
Nashville Bluegrass Band, ""Father I Stretch My Hand to Thee"
The Bluegrass Album Band, "Model Church"
Alison Krauuss and Union Station, "Heaven's Bright Shore"
Tim Graves and Daryl Mosley, "Satan's Jeweled Crown"
Del McCoury, "I Know His Voice"
Devin Jake, "Gathering Flowers for the Master's Bouquet"
Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, "Come Spring"
Karl Shifflett and Big Country Show, "Standing in the Need of Prayer"
if i were re-narrating the history of american thought - which i seem to be - i'd add or even centralize centralize a line winding through some of the following figures: roger williams, anne hutchinson, john woolman, jefferson, lucretia mott, emerson, josiah warren, fuller, thoreau, lysander spooner, voltairine de cleyre, mencken. i have to say i think the anarchist anthropology of folks like david graeber and james c. scott is the biggest development in that sort of theory since kropotkin.
Look to like reading someone or to love certain of the their ideas and arguments is not to endorse the whole damn package lock, stock, and barrel. Never get into the business of making someone you love turn out right all the time or on the other hand turning away from ideas because of distaste for the person. It might just be that, you know, decentralized government and individual rights are plausible notions on other grounds: like the insanely disastrous results of not taking them seriously. Jefferson: that hypocrite! If you think that shows that his ideas about liberty or whatever it may be are actually false, you are really not a reliable reasoner. I don't fear being indetectibly infected by controversial opinions by jolly irascible assholes from the 1920s, seriously. If there is at times a little anti-Semitic whiff or whatever, I repudiate that. Why would you let that deprive you of such good art and thought?
today i say to all americans: happy dependence day, slaves. unless instructed to, never forget the suckers who died to make a secret, universal regime of surveillance possible for us all. their sacrifice was not in vain.
i've been working on a piece on american cynicism (twain, bierce, and mencken: my peirce, james, and dewey), for what may end up being a volume of essays for suny.
one angle: so there's a basic narrative of american thought: you have the transcendentalists, incredibly optimistic representatives of an america with an open frontier. emerson and even thoreau kept expecting a transformed and redeemed humanity, more or less made possible by america. well, the second half of the 19th century would make any quasi-rational person think twice about that. so the supposedly characteristic american optimism is tempered in the pragmatists from a secular milennialism to meliorism; things might not be just about to be entirely ecstatically transformed, but things will get better and better if we work for it. this is the narrative you'll read in many histories of american thought; it's even more or less the one i've taught in classes on american philosophy. but one thing you have to realize: every narrative, especially one that neat and synoptic, is simplistic, distorting, and largely false.
what if mencken was sitting in intellectual history where his contemporary dewey is right now? then the whole thing looks entirely different i believe. maybe that sounds ridiculous. but first off, mencken was an extraordinary intellectual. check out the american language, an amazing scholarly achievement. he wrote 'treatises' on philosophy of religion (his treatise on the gods makes all the hitchens and dawkins stuff redundant, and it is so much better) and on ethics (taking a naturalistic darwinian view). he was the first american translator of nietzsche. he was certainly much more widely known and read than dewey in his own lifetime. mencken dropped out of poly high school in baltimore to work on newspapers, but he was, believe it or not, far more erudite than dewey: you can't believe at any given moment what the man knows, from the whole history of philosophy, religion, and literature to what music they're playing in the speakeasy down the street. also (obviously) he writes infinitely better than dewey, and unlike dewey he's hilarious. well there are some problems too, of course.
i want to say that american cynicism - like the ancient variety - is a profoundly affirmative philosophy. it looks squarely at all the human realities that emerson and dewey apparently didn't see at all: all the corruption, self-seeking, dishonesty, mediocrity, especially among our eminent legislators. and it laughs and laughs. no one was ever more delighted by america than mencken. he loved our clowns and con men, our "Knights of Pythias, Presbyterians, standard model Ph.D.'s, readers of the Saturday Evening Post, admirers of Richard Harding Davis and O. Henry, members of the Y.M.C.A. or the Drama League, weepers at chautauquas, wearers of badges, 100 per cent patriots, children of God" - if nothing else because they made for great insults and jokes. none of these folks, apparently, were known to john dewey. america gave him a truly hearty laugh. but he didn't write fictional redemptions; he lived in something resembling the real world, namely baltimore.
that too is central to 'america': keeping your feet on the ground, looking squarely at the dark side, rolling your eyes at the glossy propaganda that they're feeding you. seriously, stop talking to professors - who are incapable of independent or rational thought - and start talking to mechanics. well that can take you into a place of darkness. but it took mencken to a place of joy. vicious joy, but joy.
now narrating it all through the prags is useful for a 'progressive' orientation, and it does make history culminate in democratic socialism. and surely mencken's reputation has faded primarily for political reasons. but there are many ways this history could be narrated, and hence many places we might be headed. also mencken was just not that politically problematic except for his germanophilia.