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Common Sense

Thomas Paine
3,475 views - Jan 24, 2013

Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour; a long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives it a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason. As a long and violent abuse of power, is generally the Means of calling the right of it in question (and in Matters too which might never have been thought of, had not the Sufferers been aggravated into the inquiry) and as the King of England hath undertaken in his OWN RIGHT, to support the Parliament in what he calls THEIRS, and as the good people of this country are grievously oppressed by the combination, they have an undoubted privilege to inquire into the pretensions of both, and equally to reject the usurpation of either. In the following sheets, the author hath studiously avoided every thing which is personal among ourselves. Compliments as well as censure to individuals make no part thereof. The wise, and the worthy, need not the triumph of a pamphlet; and those whose sentiments are injudicious, or unfriendly, will cease of themselves unless too much pains are bestowed upon their conversion. The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances hath, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all Lovers of Mankind are affected, and in the Event of which, their Affections are interested. The laying a Country desolate with Fire and Sword, declaring War against the natural rights of all Mankind, and extirpating the Defenders thereof from the Face of the Earth, is the Concern of every Man to whom Nature hath given the Power of feeling; of which Class, regardless of Party Censure, is the AUTHOR. P.S. The Publication of this new Edition hath been delayed, with a View of taking notice (had it been necessary) of any Attempt to refute the Doctrine of Independance: As no Answer hath yet appeared, it is now presumed that none will, the Time needful for getting such a Performance ready for the Public being considerably past. Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the DOCTRINE ITSELF, not the MAN. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say, That he is unconnected with any Party, and under no sort of Influence public or private, but the influence of reason and principle.

Democracy in America

Alexis De Tocqueville
2,898 views - May 31, 2015

In Democracy in America, published in 1835, Tocqueville wrote of the New World and its burgeoning democratic order. Observing from the perspective of a detached social scientist, Tocqueville wrote of his travels through America in the early 19th century when the market revolution, Western expansion, and Jacksonian democracy were radically transforming the fabric of American life.[3] One purpose of writing Democracy in America, according to Joshua Kaplan, was to help the people of France get a better understanding of their position between a fading aristocratic order and an emerging democratic order, and to help them sort out the confusion.[3] Tocqueville saw democracy as an equation that balanced liberty and equality, concern for the individual as well as for the community. Tocqueville was an ardent supporter of liberty. He wrote "I have a passionate love for liberty, law, and respect for rights”, he wrote. “I am neither of the revolutionary party nor of the conservative...Liberty is my foremost passion.” He wrote of "Political Consequences of the Social State of the Anglo-Americans" by saying "But one also finds in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level, and which reduces men to preferring equality in servitude to inequality in freedom".[11] His view on government reflects his belief in liberty and the need for individuals to be able to act freely while respecting others' rights. Of centralized government, he wrote that it "excels in preventing, not doing."[12] He continues to comment on equality by saying "Furthermore, when citizens are all almost equal, it becomes difficult for them to defend their independence against the aggressions of power. As none of them is strong enough to fight alone with advantage, the only guarantee of liberty is for everyone to combine forces. But such a combination is not always in evidence."[13] The above is often misquoted as a slavery quote due to previous translations of the French text. The most recent translation from Arthur Goldhammer in 2004 translates the meaning to be as stated above. Examples of misquoted sources are numerous on the internet;[14] the text does not contain the words "Americans were so enamored by equality" anywhere. Tocqueville explicitly cites inequality as being incentive for poor to become rich, and notes that it is not often that two generations within a family maintain success, and that it is inheritance laws that split and eventually break apart someone's estate that cause a constant cycle of churn between the poor and rich, thereby over generations making the poor rich and rich poor. He cites protective laws in France at the time that protected an estate from being split apart amongst heirs, thereby preserving wealth and preventing a churn of wealth such as was perceived by him in 1835 within the United States of America.

Family Happiness

Leo Tolstoy
2,501 views - May 21, 2015

The story concerns the love and marriage of a young girl, Mashechka (17 years old), and the much older Sergey Mikhaylych (36), an old family friend. The story is narrated by Masha. After a courtship that has the trappings of a mere family friendship, Masha's love grows and expands until she can no longer contain it. She reveals it to Sergey Mikhaylych and discovers that he also is deeply in love. If he has resisted her it was because of his fear that the age difference between them would lead the very young Masha to tire of him. He likes to be still and quiet, he tells her, while she will want to explore and discover more and more about life. Ecstatically and passionately happy, the pair immediately engages to be married. Once married they move to Mikhaylych's home. They are both members of the landed Russian upper class. Masha soon feels impatient with the quiet order of life on the estate, notwithstanding the powerful understanding and love that remains between the two. To assuage her anxiety, they decide to spend a few weeks in St. Petersburg. Sergey Mikhaylych agrees to take Masha to an aristocratic ball. He hates "society" but she is enchanted with it. They go again, and then again. She becomes a regular, the darling of the countesses and princes, with her rural charm and her beauty. Sergey Mikhaylych, at first very pleased with Petersburg society's enthusiasm for his wife, frowns on her passion for "society"; but he does not try to influence Masha. Out of respect for her, Sergey Mikhaylych will scrupulously allow his young wife to discover the truth about the emptiness and ugliness of "society" on her own. But his trust in her is damaged as he watches how dazzled she is by this world. Finally they confront each other about their differences. They argue but do not treat their conflict as something that can be resolved through negotiation. Both are shocked and mortified that their intense love has suddenly been called into question. Something has changed. Because of pride, they both refuse to talk about it. The trust and the closeness are gone. Only courteous friendship remains. Masha yearns to return to the passionate closeness they had known before Petersburg. They go back to the country. Though she gives birth to children and the couple has a good life, she despairs. They can barely be together by themselves. Finally she asks him to explain why he did not try to guide and direct her away from the balls and the parties in Petersburg. Why did they lose their intense love? Why don't they try to bring it back? His answer is not the answer she wants to hear, but it settles her down and prepares her for a long life of comfortable "Family Happiness".

Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

T. S. Eliot
917 views - Jan 5, 2018

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Launch Audio in a New Window BY T. S. ELIOT S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse A persona che mai tornasse al mondo, Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse. Ma percioche giammai di questo fondo Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero, Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo. Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherized upon a table; Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells: Streets that follow like a tedious argument Of insidious intent To lead you to an overwhelming question ... Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” Let us go and make our visit. In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo. The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes, The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes, Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening, Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains, Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys, Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap, And seeing that it was a soft October night, Curled once about the house, and fell asleep. And indeed there will be time For the yellow smoke that slides along the street, Rubbing its back upon the window-panes; There will be time, there will be time To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; There will be time to murder and create, And time for all the works and days of hands That lift and drop a question on your plate; Time for you and time for me, And time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea. In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo. And indeed there will be time To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?” Time to turn back and descend the stair, With a bald spot in the middle of my hair — (They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”) My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin — (They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”) Do I dare Disturb the universe? In a minute there is time For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse. For I have known them all already, known them all: Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons; I know the voices dying with a dying fall Beneath the music from a farther room. So how should I presume? And I have known the eyes already, known them all— The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, Then how should I begin To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways? And how should I presume? And I have known the arms already, known them all— Arms that are braceleted and white and bare (But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!) Is it perfume from a dress That makes me so digress? Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl. And should I then presume? And how should I begin? Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? ... I should have been a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas. And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully! Smoothed by long fingers, Asleep ... tired ... or it malingers, Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me. Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis? But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed, Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter, I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter; I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, And in short, I was afraid. And would it have been worth it, after all, After the cups, the marmalade, the tea, Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me, Would it have been worth while, To have bitten off the matter with a smile, To have squeezed the universe into a ball To roll it towards some overwhelming question, To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead, Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”— If one, settling a pillow by her head Should say: “That is not what I meant at all; That is not it, at all.” And would it have been worth it, after all, Would it have been worth while, After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets, After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor— And this, and so much more?— It is impossible to say just what I mean! But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen: Would it have been worth while If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl, And turning toward the window, should say: “That is not it at all, That is not what I meant, at all.” No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; Am an attendant lord, one that will do To swell a progress, start a scene or two, Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool, Deferential, glad to be of use, Politic, cautious, and meticulous; Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous— Almost, at times, the Fool. I grow old ... I grow old ... I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me. I have seen them riding seaward on the waves Combing the white hair of the waves blown back When the wind blows the water white and black. We have lingered in the chambers of the sea By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown Till human voices wake us, and we drown.


Titus Lucretius Carus
823 views - Mar 7, 2017

To Epicurus, the unhappiness and degradation of humans arose largely from the dread which they entertained of the power of the deities, from terror of their wrath. This wrath was supposed to be displayed by the misfortunes inflicted in this life and by the everlasting tortures that were the lot of the guilty in a future state (or, where these feelings were not strongly developed, from a vague dread of gloom and misery after death). To remove these fears, and thus to establish tranquility in the heart, was the purpose of his teaching. Thus the deities, whose existence he did not deny, lived forevermore in the enjoyment of absolute peace, strangers to all the passions, desires, and fears, which agitate the human heart, totally indifferent to the world and its inhabitants, unmoved alike by their virtues and their crimes. To prove this position he called upon the atomism of Democritus, so as to demonstrate that the material universe was formed not by a Supreme Being, but by the mixing of elemental particles that had existed from all eternity governed by certain simple laws. Lucretius' task was to clearly state and fully develop these views in an attractive form; his work was an attempt to show that everything in nature can be explained by natural laws, without the need for the intervention of divine beings.[3] Lucretius identifies the supernatural with the notion that the deities created our world or interfere with its operations in some way. He argues against fear of such deities by demonstrating, through observations and arguments, that the operations of the world can be accounted for in terms of natural phenomena. These phenomena are the regular, but purposeless motions and interactions of tiny atoms in empty space. Meanwhile, he argues against the fear of death by stating that death is the dissipation of a being's material mind. Lucretius uses the analogy of a vessel, stating that the physical body is the vessel that holds both the mind (mens) and spirit (anima) of a human being. Neither the mind nor spirit can survive independent of the body. Thus Lucretius states that once the vessel (the body) shatters (dies) its contents (mind and spirit) can no longer exist. So, as a simple ceasing-to-be, death can be neither good nor bad for this being. Being completely devoid of sensation and thought, a dead person cannot miss being alive. According to Lucretius, fear of death is a projection of terrors experienced in life, of pain that only a living (intact) mind can feel. Lucretius also puts forward the 'symmetry argument' against the fear of death. In it, he says that people who fear the prospect of eternal non-existence after death should think back to the eternity of non-existence before their birth, which probably did not cause them much suffering.


6,411 views - Dec 26, 2014

After the conquest of the South Pole by Amundsen, who, by a narrow margin of days only, was in advance of the British Expedition under Scott, there remained but one great main object of Antarctic journeyings—the crossing of the South Polar continent from sea to sea. When I returned from the Nimrod Expedition on which we had to turn back from our attempt to plant the British flag on the South Pole, being beaten by stress of circumstances within ninety-seven miles of our goal, my mind turned to the crossing of the continent, for I was morally certain that either Amundsen or Scott would reach the Pole on our own route or a parallel one. After hearing of the Norwegian success I began to make preparations to start a last great journey—so that the first crossing of the last continent should be achieved by a British Expedition. We failed in this object, but the story of our attempt is the subject for the following pages, and I think that though failure in the actual accomplishment must be recorded, there are chapters in this book of high adventure, strenuous days, lonely nights, unique experiences, and, above all, records of unflinching determination, supreme loyalty, and generous self-sacrifice on the part of my men which, even in these days that have witnessed the sacrifices of nations and regardlessness of self on the part of individuals, still will be of interest to readers who now turn gladly from the red horror of war and the strain of the last five years to read, perhaps with more understanding minds, the tale of the White Warfare of the South. The struggles, the disappointments, and the endurance of this small party of Britishers, hidden away for nearly two years in the fastnesses of the Polar ice, striving to carry out the ordained task and ignorant of the crises through which the world was passing, make a story which is unique in the history of Antarctic exploration.


Frederic H. Hedge
3,313 views - May 19, 2015

When I contemplate the world as it is, independently of any command, there manifests itself in my interior the wish, the longing, no! not a longing merely—the absolute demand for a better world. I cast a glance at the relations of men to one another and to Nature, at the weakness of their powers, at the strength of their appetites and passions. It cries to me irresistibly from my innermost soul: "Thus it cannot possibly be destined always to remain. It must, O it must all become other and better!" I can in no wise imagine to myself the present condition of man as that which is designed to endure. I cannot imagine it to be his whole and final destination. If so, then would everything be dream and delusion, and it would not be worth the trouble to have lived and to have taken part in this ever-recurring, aimless, and unmeaning game. Only so far as I can regard this condition as the means of something better, as a point of transition to a higher and more perfect, does it acquire any value for me. Not on its own account, but on account of something better for which it prepares the way, can I bear it, honor it, and joyfully fulfil my part in it. My mind can find no place, nor rest a moment, in the present; it is irresistibly repelled by it. My whole life streams irrepressibly on toward the future and better. Am I only to eat and to drink that I may hunger and thirst again, and again eat and drink, until the grave, yawning beneath my feet, swallows me up, and I myself spring up as food from the ground? Am I to beget beings like myself, that they also may eat and drink and die, and leave behind them beings like themselves, who shall do the same that I have done? To what purpose this circle which perpetually returns into itself; this game forever recommencing, after the same manner, in which everything is born but to perish, and perishes but to be born again as it was; this monster which forever devours itself that it may produce itself again, and which produces itself that it may again devour itself? Never can this be the destination of my being and of all being. There must be something which exists because it has been brought forth, and which now remains and can never be brought forth again after it has been brought forth once. And this, that is permanent, must beget itself amid the mutations of the perishing, and continue amid those mutations, and be borne along unhurt upon the waves of time. As yet our race wrings with difficulty its sustenance and its continuance from reluctant Nature. As yet the larger portion of mankind are bowed down their whole life long by hard labor, to procure sustenance for themselves and the few who think for them. Immortal spirits are compelled to fix all their thinking and scheming, and all their efforts, on the soil which bears them nourishment. It often comes to pass as yet, that when the laborer has ended, and promises himself, for his pains, the continuance of his own existence and of those pains, then hostile elements destroy in a moment what he had been slowly and carefully preparing for years, and delivers up the industrious painstaking man, without any fault of his own, to hunger and misery. It often comes to pass as yet, that inundations, storm-winds, volcanoes, desolate whole countries, and mingle works which bear the impress of a rational mind, as well as their authors, with the wild chaos of death and destruction. Diseases still hurry men into a premature grave, men in the bloom of their powers, and children whose existence passes away without fruit or result. The pestilence still stalks through blooming states, leaves the few who escape it bereaved and alone, deprived of the accustomed aid of their companions, and does all in its power to give back to the wilderness the land which the industry of man had already conquered for its own. So it is, but so it cannot surely have been intended always to remain. No work which bears the impress of reason, and which was undertaken for the purpose of extending the dominion of reason, can be utterly lost in the progress of the times. The sacrifices which the irregular violence of Nature draws from reason must at least weary, satisfy, and reconcile that violence. The force which has caused injury by acting without rule cannot be intended to do so in that way any longer, it cannot be destined to renew itself; it must be used up, from this time forth and forever, by that one outbreak. All those outbreaks of rude force, before which human power vanishes into nothing—those desolating hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, can be nothing else but the final struggle of the wild mass against the lawfully progressive, life-giving, systematic course to which it is compelled, contrary to its own impulse. They can be nothing but the last concussive strokes in the formation of our globe, now about to perfect itself. That opposition must gradually become weaker and at last exhausted, since, in the lawful course of things, there can be nothing that should renew its power. That formation must at last be perfected, and our destined abode complete. Nature must gradually come into a condition in which we can count with certainty upon her equal step, and in which her power shall keep unaltered a definite relation with that power which is destined to govern it, that is, the human. So far as this relation already exists and the systematic development of Nature has gained firm footing, the workmanship of man, by its mere existence and its effects, independent of any design on the part of the author, is destined to react upon Nature and to represent in her a new and life-giving principle. Cultivated lands are to quicken and mitigate the sluggish, hostile atmosphere of the eternal forests, wildernesses, and morasses. Well-ordered and diversified culture is to diffuse through the air a new principle of life and fructification, and the sun to send forth its most animating beams into that atmosphere which is breathed by a healthy, industrious, and ingenious people. Science, awakened, at first, by the pressure of necessity, shall hereafter penetrate deliberately and calmly into the unchangeable laws of Nature, overlook her whole power, and learn to calculate her possible developments—shall form for itself a new Nature in idea, attach itself closely to the living and active, and follow hard upon her footsteps. And all knowledge which reason has wrung from Nature shall be preserved in the course of the times and become the foundation of further knowledge, for the common understanding of our race. Thus shall Nature become ever more transparent and penetrable to human perception, even to its innermost secrets. And human power, enlightened and fortified with its inventions, shall rule her with ease and peacefully maintain the conquest once effected. By degrees, there shall be needed no greater outlay of mechanical labor than the human body requires for its development, cultivation and health. And this labor shall cease to be a burden; for the rational being is not destined to be a bearer of burdens. But it is not Nature, it is liberty itself, that occasions the most numerous and the most fearful disorders among our kind. The direst enemy of man is man.

The Root Is Man

Dwight Macdonald
2,450 views - Jun 3, 2015

It took Macdonald two years to write “The Root Is Man.” The scope of the essay intimidated him. He also had other demands on his time such as writing, editing, proofreading and publishing politics. Politics never had more than 5,000 subscribers. They were the first to read one of the most remarkable American intellectual journals of the twentieth century. Although this is not the place for a full evaluation of politics, one can get a sense of its uniqueness by listing some of its writers: Simone Weil, Albert Camus, Victor Serge, Georges Bataille, Jean-Paul Satre, Karl Jaspers, George Woodcock, Mary McCarthy, John Berryman, Robert Duncan, Paul Mattick, Bruno Bettleheim, George Padmore, Meyer Shapiro, Simone de Beauvoir, Paul Goodman, James Agee, Marshall McLuhan, Richard Hofstadter, Irving Howe, Nicola Chiaromonte, Lionel Abel, Andrea Caffi and C. Wright Mills. There were four remarkable women in the politics circle. Most important was Nancy Macdonald who managed the journal’s business affairs while at the same time running various relief efforts to aid veterans of the Spanish Civil War and victims of Nazism. (The breakup of the Macdonalds’ marriage in 1949 would be a major factor in the decision to stop publishing politics.) Another organizer of politics, Mary McCarthy, was one of Macdonald’s closest allies in the libertarian left. (It was McCarthy who translated Simone Weil’s famous essay on Homer’s Iliad.) Hannah Arendt (while not writing for politics) became one of Macdonald’s most important co-conspirators. In the late 1960’s, Arendt would write the introduction to a reprint edition of the complete set of politics. Yet the most powerful intellectual influence on the journal was Simone Weil, whose critique of violence and essay on Homer had been brought to Macdonald’s attention by Nicola Chiaromonte, a Spanish civil war vet, anti-Fascist exile, and one of Macdonald’s closest friends. Through Chiaromonte, the thought of Simone Weil was first introduces to America in the pages of politics. Politics also covered such issues as the suppression of the Greek insurrection, the anti-French insurgency in Indochina, America’s refusal to aid the starving people of Europe, the question of the Soviet Union, the American civil rights struggle, the need for equal treatment of homosexuals, the ideas of Wilhelm Reich, attacks on mass culture as studies on Max Weber, de Tocqueville, Utopian Socialists like Charles Fourier and anarchists such as Proudhon and Godwin. One could order from politics Anton Ciliga’s The Russian Enigma (which has a major impact on Macdonald), Alexander Berkman’s The ABC of Anarchism, Camillo Berneri’s Peter Kropotkin’s Federal Ideas, Jomo Kenyatta’s Kenya, Land of Conflicts, Leo Tolstoy’s The Slavery of our Times, George Woodcock’s New Life to the Land, Raymond Michelet’s African Empires and Civilizations, Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism and Rosa Luxemburg’s Letters from Prison. Politics spoke to radicals who rejected both Stalin and Trotsky but who were equally intransigent in opposing capitalism. Politics was part of a larger anti-totalitarian anarchist, pacifist and independent Marxist milieu that existed in the late 1940’s before the pressures of the Cold War rigidified political discourse for years to come. Other anarchist journals like Resistance and Retort in America and George Woodcock’s Now in England echoed many of politics’ themes, as did two classic books of that time: Animal Farm and 1984, by politics fellow traveller George Orwell. Forums in New York around ideas politics discussed drew significant audiences. many of politics’ most active supporters were leftwing conscientious objectors influenced by Ghandi’s massive civil disobedience movement in India. It was out of this ferment that “The Root Is Man” emerged, the most famous essay in a series of critical pieces which appeared under the banner “New Roads in Politics.” This essay caused an immediate storm. One lengthy rebuttal by Irving Howe (then a Workers Party member who worked for Macdonald in the politics office) called “The Thirteenth Disciple” asked: Where is one to begin in a reply to Macdonald? His forty page article is a grab-bag of modern confusionism; a pinch of Proudhon; a whiff of pacifism; a nod to existentialism; a bow to Wilhelm Reich, founder of the “psychology of the orgasm”; a few scrappings from the anarchists; a touch of philosophical idealism and a large debt to that illustrious thinker, Paul Goodman. Years later, in A Margin of Hope, Howe had eased up a bit; The Root Is Man...(is) in many ways the most poignant and authentic expression of the plight of those few intellectuals — Nicola Chiaromonte, Paul Goodman, Macdonald — who wished to disassociate themselves from the post-war turn to Realpolitik but could not find ways of transforming sentiments of rectitude and visions of utopia into a workable politics. Yet reading “The Root Is Man” today is no mere exercise in nostalgia. Macdonald raised issues that, almost 50 years later, have become even more critical. Macdonald’s assault on the scientific model of thinking echoed Frankfurt School critiques of instrumental reason. Macdonald, however, located Marxism itself in the general crisis of Enlightenment thought. For that alone, “The Root Is Man” is extraordinary. Other crucial issues raised by Macdonald included the question of active resistance to unfettered growth and the need for economic decentralization coupled with political democracy. He also took up the question of reification, citing George Lukács (not a household name is 1946) to argue that, in the concept of alienation, Marxism made its most powerful critique of the human condition under capital. The issue of reification and the damaging effect of mass culture that so concerned Macdonald would appear again in the mid-60’s Situationist polemic against the “society of the spectacle” whose roots in dissident Western Marxism can be found in “The Root Is Man” and politics in general. Above all, Macdonald was most concerned with the way we organize our daily political action. His insight into how mass socialist and communist parties reproduce the same deadening effect on the individual as other forms of bourgeois organization rings true today: What is not so generally understood is that the traditional progressive approach, taking history as the starting-point and thinking in terms of mass political parties, bases itself on this same alienation of man which it thinks it is combating. It puts the individual in the same powerless, alienated role vis-à-vis the party or trade union as the manipulators of the modern State do, except that the slogans are different.... The brutal fact is that the man in the street everywhere is quite simply bored with socialism, as expounded by the Socialist, Stalinist, and Trotskyist epigones of Marx... Above all, he feels that there is no interest in it for him, as an individual human being — that he is as powerless and manipulated vis-à-vis his socialist mass-organization as he is towards his capitalist employers and their social and legal institutions. As soon as “The Root Is Man” was published it came under immediate fire for denying the viability of class struggle. the other major criticism of “The Root Is Man” was its stress on absolute values transcending history. In fact, only two years after publication of his essay, Macdonald abandoned one of the absolutes he had endorsed (radical pacifism) in the wake of what he saw as Stalin’s threat to the West during the Berlin Crisis. Along with the 1948 Berlin Crisis and the assassination of Gandhi that same year, the general threat of a new world war deeply depressed Macdonald and contributed to his marital breakup. Attempts by the politics network to organize groups in Europe and communes here also failed. Politics finally ceased publication in 1949. Macdonald’s fierce anti-communist and sense of doom as the radical movement fell apart led him into the ranks of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), a group supported by many leading anti-Stalinist left-intellectuals. Years later Macdonald would discover the CIA’s role in funding the CCF and its journals like Encounter.(See Appendix D for a further discussion of Macdonald and the CCF.) While Macdonald throughout the 1950’s attacked McCarthyism, he focused more and more on the need to make a living both as a staff writer for The new Yorker and freelance journalist. Yet even during the dog days of the Eisenhower-Nixon era, Macdonald continued to give radical talks on campuses. One of his favorite themes was the relevance of anarchy. While Macdonald no longer considered the abolition of private property necessary, his take on anarchism (in Memoirs of a Revolutionist) is still striking: It was odd that anarchism took no root in the thirties, considering (1) the American temperament, lawless and individualistic, (2) the American anarchist tradition, from Benjamin Tucker to the Wobblies, and (3) that anarchism gave a better answer to the real modern problem, the encroachment of the State, than did Marxism, which was revolutionary only about bourgeois private property (not a real issue anymore) and was thoroughly reactionary on the question of the State. But (3) also explains Marxism’s popularity (though it doesn’t justify it): while the centralized State is the chief danger now to freedom, it is also necessary to the operation of a mass society based on large-scale industry. Thus Marxism is “practical,” since it fits into the status quo — as in Soviet Russia — while anarchism is “impractical” because it threatens it. The revolutionary alternative to the status quo today is not collectivized property administered by a “workers’ state” whatever that means, but some kind of anarchist decentralization that will break up mass society into small communities where individuals can live together as variegated human beings instead of as impersonal units in the mass sum....Marxism glorifies “the masses” and endorses the State. Anarchism leads back to the individual and the community, which is “impractical” but necessary — that is to say, it is revolutionary. In the mid-1950’s the thaw in Russia after Stalin’s death and the Twentieth Party Congress slowly rejuvenated Macdonald. Although he always remained a strong anti-communist, Macdonald no longer saw the USSR as a more advanced version of Hitler’s Germany. In 1960, Macdonald became active as a civil libertarian in the cases of Morton Sobell (a supposed member of the supposed Rosenberg spy ring) and Junius Scales, another Communist sent to prison under the Smith Act. Macdonald also became an early member of the New Left and spoke at the closing session of the first national convention of SDS in 1960. Meanwhile “The Root Is Man” was rediscovered by a new generation of activists. Macdonald’s critical support of student radicals culminated in his speaking at the “Counter Commencement” held at Columbia during the 1968 strike. Macdonald’s activism also led him to participate in a picket line outside the Waldorf-Astoria to protest the war in Vietnam. The year was 1963, a time when most Americans could not find Vietnam on a map. Later, in 1967, Macdonald played an important role (with Robert Lowell and Norman Mailer) in the first big peace march on the Pentagon. Macdonald’s radicalism was in striking contrast not just to National Review editor James Burnham but to Workers Party leader Max Shachtman who by this time had become a major behind-the-scenes advisor to the AFL-CIO on both domestic and foreign policy. At various demos, Macdonald would sometimes bump into young SWP activists who delighted in reminding the old factionalist that his current views were not so dissimilar to theirs. “Even a broken watch occasionally tells the right time,” Macdonald would grumble in response. Dwight Macdonald died in 1982. Nietzsche defined nihilism as a situation where “everything is permitted,” and today we might add “for the right price.” Our time has also spawned a series of Jihads against the New World Order. There is now a frantic search for absolutes, foundational principles, a search which inspires religious fundamentalists of the Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Moslem variety as well as those who kill for an inscribed ethnic or national identity to build their racial Utopias. Contrasted to them are the efficient, orderly, passionless, non-smoking, technologically advanced killing machines of the West. In just such a world it is long past time to rediscover individualist-centered radical thought from America’s rich tradition as well as thinkers as different as Fourier, Stirner, Kropotkin and Nietzsche. While the insights of Marxism must continue to inform our actions, we must also be aware of its glaring weaknesses. It is again time to take seriously the brilliant battle-cry that concludes Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism: “The new Individualism is the new Hellenism.” Quoting Wilde is especially appropriate in concluding a discussion of “The Root Is Man” because Macdonald’s essay is also an attempt to reclaim the spirit of art itself, its values and legislative rights, and to explore the link between the aesthetic and moral sphere. Macdonald captures the necessity for a world that imagination, a renewed capacity to envision the world that makes the very idea of revolt meaningful. Although T.S. Elliot was a tremendous admirer of politics, Macdonald does not believe that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world: he does insist that if the oppressed are ever to rule themselves we must reignite the utopian spark that mass society relentlessly seeks to subvert, co-opt or destroy. Of course the terminally hip will scorn any analysis that takes seriously such Philosophy 101 questions as “How Do We Live Today?” that so tortured Macdonald. But for me, “flighty Dwighty” Macdonald still speaks and no more brilliantly than in “The Root Is Man,” one of the great lost classics of American radicalism.


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